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Monday, 22 August 2005
Thai film's transsexual glove story
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter
Asanee Suwan as Nong Toom.

Beautiful Boxer tells the story of Thai kickboxing star Nong Toom
Asanee Suwan as Nong Toom
Beautiful Boxer tells the story of Thai kickboxing star Nong Toom
Beautiful Boxer, a film based on famed transsexual kickboxer Nong Toom, has been a huge success in its native Thailand and is now set to be released in the UK.
Beautiful Boxer tells a story so odd it has to be true.
Parinya Charoenphol (also Kiatbusaba) was born a poor nomad who spent much of his early life in a monastery.
Realising he had a flair for kickboxing, he became a master at Muay Thai, the most traditional and revered form of the ancient martial art.
Feared by his opponents for his swooping kicks and devastating elbow blows, he became one of Thailand's best-known boxers — and its most controversial.
For Charoenphol, or Nong Toom as he became known, was a transsexual who wore make-up in the ring and dreamed of saving enough money for a sex change operation.
"For me, Nong Toom is like a walking paradox," says Ekachai Uekrongtham, the Thai-born director of Beautiful Boxer.
"He set out to master something that is totally masculine in order to become totally feminine."
Nong Toom would eventually realise his dream, having gender reassignment surgery in 1999 at the age of 17.
Forbidden to return to the ring — Thai women are not allowed to kickbox professionally — she now lives as an actress and model in Bangkok.
Asanee Suwan as Nong Toom

Real-life kickboxer Asanee Suwan plays the lead role in the film
Real-life kickboxer Asanee Suwan plays the lead role in the film
'Prejudiced'
"My initial reaction towards her was quite negative," says the director.
"Thais hold kickboxing in very high regard, and I felt she had tarnished its image.
"It was not until I met her that I realised I had been very prejudiced against her, without giving her a chance."
Nong Toom played a significant role in the scripting process, though there was never any chance she would play herself on screen.
Nor, says Uekrongtham, did she have a veto over how she would be depicted. "I told her from the start the film would not put her on a pedestal.
"This is fiction, a biopic. I wanted to capture the essence of who she is, in a way that would contribute to the themes I was interested in exploring."
One of the hardest aspects of production was finding an actor who could convincingly portray the contrasting sides of Nong Toom's persona.
Indeed, the director admits the problem almost proved unassailable.
"I decided very early on I wanted to cast a real kickboxer," he says.
I think he was man enough to be a woman
Director Ekachai Uekrongtham, about actor Asanee Suwan
"It's a skill you need to acquire over a lifetime, so I wanted it to be authentic.
"But kickboxers are not usually good actors — they are trained not to express their feelings in the ring."
Fortunately, Uekrongtham found his ideal candidate in Asanee Suwan, a real-life kickboxing champion who has fought in almost 200 matches in Thailand and Denmark.
Suwan spent a year preparing for the role — taking acting, movement and ballet classes and losing weight in order to look more "feminine".
Asanee Suwan as Nong Toom

The film has won awards at film festivals around the world
Asanee Suwan as Nong Toom
The film has won awards at film festivals around the world
He was also required to adhere to a strict skin and body care regime — including numerous body scrub and hair removal sessions.
"Asanee had not acted before, but I felt he was brave enough to explore some emotional realms he may not have been comfortable with," the director says.
"I think he was man enough to be a woman, to be cool about it and take artistic risks."
For while Nong Toom's story is a compelling and unusual one, there were wider issues Uekrongtham wanted to address.
"I wanted to do something to do with the ever-changing concepts of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.
"It was an amazing story to use as a springboard to talk about those subjects."
Tuesday, 23 March, 2004
Transvestites rescue Thai movies
Scene from Beautiful Boxer

Beautiful Boxer is a true story
Scene from Beautiful Boxer
Beautiful Boxer is a true story
A number of films featuring transvestites and transsexuals as the central characters have been pulling crowds in to Thai cinemas — and are now looking to do so around the world.
Two such films have just been premiered in Berlin, Beautiful Boxer and The Adventures Of Iron Pussy.
Beautiful Boxer is the true story of Nong Toom, a Thai kickboxer seeking a sex-change operation.
The film has the tagline "He fights like a man — so he can become a woman," and has been selected for the Panorama Section of the Berlin Film Festival.
"As a Thai, I had always heard of Nong Toom, because she's such a colourful character," Beautiful Boxer's director Ekachai Uekrongtham told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.
"But I think that I recognise that perhaps in this character, I might be able to find an emotional anchor to tell a story that's... about a human being who tries to be courageous enough to be who he wants to be.
Iron Ladies
"I think it's an interesting character to me, because it's about someone who masters the most masculine — Thai kick boxing — in order to achieve total femininity," he said.
Diana Rigg

Diana Rigg was one of the influences for Iron Pussy
Diana Rigg was one of the influences for Iron Pussy
He added this gave the film a lot of built-in conflict — "the basis for very good drama."
The film that sparked off the Thai box office revival was smash hit comedy Iron Ladies.
That was also a sporting true story — this time of a transvestite volleyball team.  The film won international recognition and became one of the biggest-grossing Thai films of all time.
Beautiful Boxer and The Adventures Of Iron Pussy are just two of a spate of films have followed.
The Bangkok Post estimates that of the around fifty Thai films released this year, five or six feature prominent transvestite characters.
The Adventures Of Iron Pussy, for example, features a man who is a shop assistant by day, and a kick-boxing, high-heel-wearing superhero by night.
The film is a spy parody, written and co-directed by its main star, Michael Shaowanasai.
Shaowanasai said the character of Iron Pussy was drawn from three different sources.
"The first one is my mother — I look exactly like my mother, who used to be a movie star, but she didn't make it because she had a career and children," he explained.
"I thought it would be great, to provide closure, really, for that dream of hers."
The other sources were Japanese TV series Playgirls and film star Diana Rigg, a Bond girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service but best-known for the role of Miss Peel in The Avengers.
Shaowanasai said Rigg was his "long-time heroine."
"I love her.  I saw her in The Avengers as a child, and I thought that this woman looks like an Asian woman — but she's not.
"She's just so cool, she fights bad guys."
Buddhist sympathy
But Shaowanasai added that although the film is primarily a parody, it did have a serious point to make.
Transsexual beauty contest

Thai society is sympathetic to transsexuals
Transsexual
beauty contest
Thai
society is
sympathetic
to trans sexuals
"One thing about gay and lesbian films that come out of Thailand is that they portray gay characters as clowns and buffoons," he stressed.
"I want to change that idea for the audience, so they say, 'hey, gay people can do something else as well — not just running around with makeup and doing funny stuff'."
Beautiful boxer's director Ekachai he said he believed the reason transvestite films were so well-received in Thailand was partly due to the country's predominantly Buddhist religion.
Buddhist beliefs hold that transvestites were born that way as a result of bad karma.
Consequently there was much compassion towards them in the country.
"We feel that it's not something they want to be born with," he highlighted.
"So we do have more compassion and more tolerance."
Wednesday, February 25, 1998
Sealed with a kiss
The Thai kickboxing star

The Thai kickboxing star
The Thai kickboxing star "feels like a woman"
A 16-year-old transvestite has caused a sensation in the Thai capital, Bangkok, by winning a kickboxing contest in the city's Lumpini stadium.
Despite taunts from his opponent that he was not a real man, the boxer, Parinya Kiatbusaba, won convincingly in front of thousands of screaming fans.
Wearing red lipstick and pink nail varnish, Mr Parinya planted a delicate kiss on the cheek of his bloodied and demoralised opponent, and said he would use the $900 prize for plastic surgery to help him towards a full sex change.
Before the match he caused a stir when he refused to strip naked to be weighed, as required by regulations.
The judges relented when he burst into tears.
The shy man burst into tears
The shy man burst into tears
As a concession, they allowed him to retain his underwear.
The shy youngster recently moved to Bangkok after a successful career in the Thai provinces, where for the past two years he has knocked out 18 boxers in 22 fights.
Boxing experts say that despite his slight frame and feminine looks, he can be a terror in the ring.
MCMXCVIII
 
 
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For archive purposes, this article is being stored on TheWE.cc website.
The purpose is to advance understandings of environmental, political,
human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues.