Oscar Injustice II: Thailand's "Iron Ladies" (March 8, 2006)
Since gay films are in the news (the critical acclaim earned by Brokeback Mountain), it's appropriate to re-visit another film about gays which touches on the same themes of love and tolerance (or intolerance): Iron Ladies a 2000 release from Thailand.
Unlike the more serious, if not downright dour Brokeback Mountain, Iron Ladies is a spirited, very Asian telling of a wonderful story: how a group of transvestite gay males came together to form a champion volleyball team in 1996. This isn't just "based on a true story," it is a true story; the actors' even bear an uncanny resemblance to the actual guys and gals (their coach was a gay female) who lived the reality (they're shown in some clips at the end of the film).
Unlike most Western films about gays, this film isn't afraid to have fun, from the ribald gutter language to the over-the-top antics of some of the players. For added frisson, the team captain is a hetero guy who has to come to grips with his own ignorance and intolerance.
The Asian influence is very visible; at several points, a cheesy pop song breaks out for no particular reason, and the action sequences of the guys playing volleyball do not have the realism expected of a Hollywood sports film. Still, all the sports movie cliches are intact, right down to the cliff-hanger final grudge match for the national championship.
(Volleyball, it seems, is the Thai equivalent of basketball in the States, while the ultra-violent Thai kickboxing more or less assumes the role of the NFL--if football included boxing and no-holds-barred kung fu.)
Yet despite the cliches, the film perceptively imparts the swirling interplay of tolerance and intolerance within Thai society for openly gay people. Despite the cliches, we are openly rooting for the team to win, and we hope for each individual's happiness. Especially touching is the husband and wife who openly accept their son as he is, and enthusiastically celebrate his team's success.
As a footnote, it must be said that the one actor who plays a dancer is more beautiful than most women. Having seen similar guys in Thailand myself, I can only say the outward transformation of a Thai male into a female is most remarkable and most convincing.
copyright © 2006 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.
I would be honored if you linked this wEssay to your site, or printed a copy for your own use.