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Transgender Film Reviews

Beautiful Boxer

Beautiful Boxer - the story of a transexualBased on the true story of Thailand’s famed transexual kickboxer, Beautiful Boxer is a poignant action drama that punches straight into the heart and mind of a boy who fights like a man so he can become a woman.

Believing he’s a girl trapped in a boy’s body since childhood, Parinya Charoenphol (affectionately known as Nong Toom in Thailand) sets out to master the most masculine and lethal sport of Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) to earn a living and to achieve his ultimate goal of total femininity. Touching, funny and packed with breathtaking Thai kickboxing scenes, Beautiful Boxer traces Nong Toom’s childhood, teenage life as a traveling monk, grueling days in boxing camps and explosive matches where he knocks out most of his opponents across Thailand and Japan.

Winner of two Thai ‘Oscars’ for Best Actor and Best Makeup, the film had its international premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival. It has since garnered 10 international awards to date including Best Feature Film awards from Milan, Brussels, Montreal and Torino plus a string of other awards from Los Angeles, San Sebastian, Seattle, Oslo and India.

The Cast

Starring real-life kickboxing champ Asanee Suwan in the lead role, Beautiful Boxer also features acclaimed performances by award-winning veteran actor Sorapong Chatree (Thailand’s ‘Robert De Niro) in the role of Nong Toom’s coach and former Miss Thailand Orn-Anong Panyawong in the role of Nong Toom’s mother.

Asanee Suwan as transexual kickboxer Nong Toom
Asanee Suwan as transexual kickboxer Nong Toom

A professional boxer since 12, Asanee Suwan has fought in nearly 200 matches in Thailand and Denmark, and won in most of them. Ranked No. 5 by the World Muay Thai Council in the 118 pound category, he was also named the Best Kickboxer by the Association of Muay Thai for the Northern Region of Thailand in 2001. Other boxing accolades include the 2000 Feather Weight Champion (Association of Muay Thai for the Northern Region) and the 1994 Rising Star 29kg Champion (Cholburee province).

Nong Toom's trademark pre-fight dance ritual
Nong Toom's trademark pre-fight dance ritual

Discovered through nation-wide open auditions which attracted people from all walks of life from more than 40 provinces across Thailand, Asanee had to spend nearly a year preparing for the role of Nong Toom. He attended acting, movement and ballet classes; took likay (traditional Thai street opera) lessons; and went through an intensive personality grooming course usually reserved for beauty queens. Before filming certain pivotal scenes in the film, he was also required to stick to a strict skin and body care regime which include numerous body scrub and hair removal sessions. In addition, he had to lose substantial amount of weight and muscle to make himself physically more feminine. Nong Toom herself also gave Asanee one-to-one training sessions to help him perfect her trademark dance rituals which she performed before every boxing match.

Kyoko Inoue, Japan’s top female wrestler was invited to play herself in the film. A seasoned wrestler with more than 3,000 wrestling matches to her credit, Kyoko has fought with Nong Toom in real life in Tokyo on 24 November 1988.

The Muay Thai ring is no place to be worrying about breaking a nail!
The Muay Thai ring is no place to be worrying about breaking a nail!

That historical match was reenacted in the film’s spectacular fight sequence shot in Japan’s Tokyo Dome, one of the world’s largest indoor stadiums. Nong Toom’s ten other opponents in the movie were also played by real-life professional kickboxers. Together, these professional kickboxers have chalked up more than 1,000 professional bouts in their respective boxing careers.

The fight choreography in the film was created in conjunction with one of Thailand’s top Muay Thai teachers Sanae Tupthimtong. He has collaborated with Uekrongtham in 1998 to create fight choreography between the original Siamese Twins and the villagers in Chang & Eng – The Musical.

Nong Toom Parinya Charoenphol herself also had a guest-starring role in the film.

The Director's Message

Ekachai Uekrongtham, the film's directorEkachai Uekrongtham, the film's director said, “I was hesitant to make a film about Nong Toom’s life at first. I’d heard of her and was intrigued by her story. To me, she’s a walking paradox: a lethal kickboxer who fights like a man but dreams of becoming a woman. The conflicts within such a young person must have been extraordinary, I thought. There’s certainly a fertile ground there for a great deal of dramatic exploration. But I was not sure if I’d be able to find an emotional anchor in her controversial story for myself, for the audience.

My first meeting with Nong Toom took place not long after she had her sex change operation. Admittedly, I went to that meeting with some pre-conceived ideas about who she is, the boy she was, and the man she used to be. She surprised me.

So here it is… a story of a human being who goes on an incredible emotional journey to try to match his heart with his body. Masculinity vs. Femininity. Heart vs. Head. Dream vs. Reality. Fighting vs. Living.”

About the Real Life Nong Toom

He is now a she. In real life, Nong Toom’s dream has come true after undergoing a sex-change operation in 1999.

The real life Nong Toom in photos from age 6 to 21
The real life Nong Toom in photos from age 6 to 21

Now a model, actress and Muay Thai teacher based in Bangkok, Nong Toom can no longer fight in the ring as women are not allowed in professional boxing rings for men in Thailand.

Born into a poor family of nomads, Nong Toom spent his childhood traveling around the country with his family before settling down in Chiangmai province in the Northern part of Thailand. Prior to his big match in Bangkok in February 1998, he'd won 20 out of 22 matches in many provinces. He's feared by his opponents for his trademark swooping kicks, flying elbows and stinging uppercuts. His deadly prowess in the ring made it hard for the public to understand his ambition of becoming a woman.

Undoubtedly one of Thailand's best known kickboxers, Nong Toom is admired by many for his courage and despised by others who accused him of tarnishing the masculine image of Thai kickboxing.

Beautiful Boxer is now screening at selected cinemas around the world and will be released in cinemas in UK by Tartan Films on 21st October 2005.

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