Films about transgendered people aren’t exactly filling up the multi-plexes. For that reason alone, Beautiful Boxer is pretty special. But to its credit, it is actually a pretty charming and absorbing film, due in no small part to its star Asanee Suwan, a professional Thai boxer making his acting debut.
Suwan plays Nong Toom, a country lad who has a penchant for sneaking makeup and putting on lipstick in secret. When his brother tries out for a kickboxing school—a place where country boys and their coaches dream of making it big in national competitions—it turns out that Nong Toom, the reluctant fighter, is actually the one with the natural talent. In no time, Nong Toom is winning fights left and right. One day, when he is caught wearing makeup, his coach suddenly realize that THAT is the way to make his fighter truly stand out from the rest in the ring.
But Nong Toom is not merely wearing makeup for fun. Deep in his heart, he has always known that he was a woman trapped inside a man’s body. With nurturing support from the women in his life, as well as surprising support from several of his peers in the sporting world (including his coach), he continues to fight for big money, simply so he can earn enough for a sex-change operation.
It is one of those stories that is so crazy that it has to be true. In the late 90s, Nong Toom was indeed a successful and popular boxer in Thailand that fought in drag, and became famous for actually going through the sex-change operation and retiring from the ring. The casting of Asanee Suwan, himself a professional fighter, was a brilliant stroke. Though it is his first film, Suwan easily invokes Toom’s inner struggle and vulnerability, as well as his inherent sweetness that sometimes doesn’t work in his favor. Though it is a handsome-looking movie, Beautiful Boxer pulls its beauty from Suwan’s performance.
With its rather typical Rocky-type dramatic arc, the film is replete with impressive fight scenes and outrageously un-subtle soaring music that borders upon grating. Director Uekrongtham struggles with keeping up the brisk pace of the storytelling about 2/3rds the way through when Nong Toom gets closer to his goal, degrading himself for money in desperation. But you stick with the story, partly because Suwan is so endearing, but mostly because you just want to be sure there is a happy ending. Beautiful Boxer is ultimately a triumphant movie, and certainly one of a kind, just like its hero(ine).