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Beautiful Boxer
cast: Asanee Suwan, Sorapong Chatree, Orn-Anong Panyawong, Nukkid Boonthong, and Sitiporn Niyom

director: Ekachai Uekrongtham

114 minutes (15) 2003
widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
Based on the life of Parinya Charoenphol, this is a highly unusual combination of martial arts movie and character drama. Parinya became world famous due both to his success as a Thai boxer and the fact that he used his winnings to finance a sex change. Widely criticised for it at the time, she has now become a successful actress and model.

The film changes the central character's name to Toom Parinya and uses his Thai boxing career as the structure for the story. We see Toom as a child, including the brief time he spent as a monk and follow him from there through to the operation and beyond. Thai boxing is an unusual martial art as it combines genuine grace with moves of astonishing brutality. Kicks, punches, knees and elbows are all permitted and the end result was once described as "like fighting an opponent with eight fists." This brutal effectiveness and the grace with which it's carried out is a superb metaphor for Toom's life and one that the film never strays far from.

Asanee Suwan is superb as Toom, combining a genuinely sweet, feminine outlook with moments of gentle humour and staggering rage. As he moves from reluctant fighter to successful champion, we see him both gain in confidence and become more feminine, Suwan combining the swagger of an athlete with a genuinely touching humility. This in turn is balanced with genuinely intimidating moments in the ring, his fights used as a means of punctuating the action. An early bout with a friend is a particular standout. Prior to the fight, his opponent tells Toom he needs the prize money for his sick mother and Toom responds by agreeing to throw the bout. When he discovers that his opponent was lying, the two tear at one another in the middle of a pitched rainstorm, culminating with Toom standing over his unconscious opponent, glaring at him. A few minutes later he's discussing nail polish with his best friend and Suwan is so effective we never see the join.

This unusual combination of fight movie and character study never once feels jarring and the ending is genuinely emotional to watch. Lacking the strength to defend himself against male opponents due to his hormone therapy, Toom agrees to fight female wrestler Kyoko Inoue in Tokyo. As the bout begins to go the massive Inoue's way, Toom has to dig deep to find peace with himself and win the match, both with Inoue and the world. Done wrong, this would be over indulgent schmaltz but here it's played in a very open, honest way that's deeply touching to watch.

Beautifully acted and directed, this is an unusual, intelligent and often very moving film. Fight fans will find a lot to enjoy but there's a lot more than that to enjoy here. A unique film about a unique individual this deserves your attention.
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