It is said that to know a man is to love him. In action bio-pic "Beautiful Boxer" Thai kickboxer Parinya Charoenphol (known as "Nong Toom") fights with grace and grit with the hope of becoming a woman. Since childhood he felt like he was a girl in a boy's body. Before director Ekachai Uekrongtham gives us the chance to judge Parinya – he lets us get to know him. We see very little of her as a transgender woman until near the end. By that time we've cheered her on and care about her.
There are usually biological explanations why people feel they are in the wrong bodies. But -- no matter, just the thought that our gender identity is fluid makes people nervous. Don't let that keep you away from "Beautiful Boxer". In a Q & A with the director he said that because they are Buddhist in Thailand, they believe that people are born the way they are, leading to tolerance. Uekrohgtham's masterful storytelling encourages our tolerance and even acceptance. Nong Toom's story is ultimately about the internal conflicts, loneliness and desperation we all face -- and the strength we can summon when needed.
"Beautiful Boxer" is co-writer/director Uekrohgtham's feature debut. Except for a few minor flaws, this is a masterpiece. Most of the acting is magnificent except for the annoying reporter, "Jack" (Keagan Kang). There is one anomalous and very cheesy scene in the beginning: Nong Toom kicks ass in a busy market, wearing HEELS. This kitsch scene made me worry about what to expect, but my worries were soon allayed when the film's tone got back on track.
Not only is "Beautiful Boxer" gorgeous, it's engaging, funny, philosophical and poignant. Through moving Eastern-inspired philosophy and gentle, sweet humor, Uekrohgtham tells this tale with sensitivity and love. He takes us deep into the besieged Nong Toom's psyche with a few surreal psychotic-like scenes. You can almost feel what it's like to be teetering on the edge of sanity with Nong Toom. We empathize with her overwhelming dilemma. She is portrayed as principled, humorous, kind and vulnerable -- and paradoxically steel-willed. We root for her all the way.
The stunning action choreography MUST be seen on the big screen. The ten gritty matches are performed by Muay Thai kickboxers. Professional kickboxer Asanee Suwan plays Nong Toom flawlessly, with grace and power. He becomes Nong Toom, reminiscent of Sean Penn's style. We will see this newcomer again.
One of the most powerful aspects of "Beautiful Boxer" is Nong Toom's relationship with her parents who both display wisdom beyond this earth. The mother-child relationship stands out as one of the closest and sweetest in film.
"Beautiful Boxer" knocked me out! In San Francisco, this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 1/19/05
Thailand, in Thai with English subtitles and English, 118 minutes