Review - Hoang Tu Anh

Beautiful Boxer


When I got a request to write a review of a film that was screened at Films of Desire, a film that I was interested in, I felt excited and immediately said ‘yes’. After sending out the email, I already regretted it. Oh, it is hard. Which film should I choose? I have watched so many films in these four days at the incredibly beautiful Neemrana Fort Palace. Love for Share, Cut, Beautiful Boxer, Split Wide Open, Sea in the Blood, Locust, Mr and Mrs Iyer, Bugis Street,…all the footage screened slowly in my mind again. Each film is so meaningful to me, though in different ways. Then I stopped at Beautiful Boxer, an amazing film that brought me a lot of emotion. It was the opening night film and was quite an experience to watch it outdoors, under the stars, knowing that Nong Toom (the beautiful boxer herself) was with us in the audience and would answer questions later. I talked about the film with my colleagues for weeks after I came back from Delhi.

What I like in Beautiful Boxer is the way the director makes the story go. It is so true, so natural that I hardly felt any artificial cinematic technique in it. During the Question and Answer session after the movie, Nong Toom admitted that the film is about ‘90% of my life’ and the remaining 10% is not shown because of time constraints. By the way, I really like her. She dresses quite simply, put on very little make up and answered questions in an honest manner.

Transgender and transsexual issues are not very much discussed in Vietnam until recently after a singer had an operation to become a woman. However, most of the discussions in the media are very much to satisfy the curiosity of audiences. The interviews often start with questions such as what is her current life, especially her sexual life after the operation. What does her partner think about this or what do ‘real’ men think about her? How much did she have to pay for the operation? Very few questions are about her identity, the value of finding and preserving it, or acknowledgement of her effort to gain it. One article had a big title ‘30,000 USD to find herself’. The article focusses on the physical change but fails to talk about the immeasurable cost of her inner damage all these years. This is what Beautiful Boxer does very successfully.

As the relationship intensifies, Crispin gives Gardo a precious necklace, a family heirloom. When Bert, Crispin’s suspecting chauffer, learns about the gift, he cunningly intervenes, one night, by preventing Gardo from going inside the movie house where Crispin desperately waits for his lover. The film closes with a sequence trailing Crispin getting out of the movie house after waiting for Gardo to no avail. ‘I want to go home,’ Crispin tells Bert. The very last scene shows a striking radiance produced by the front lights of Crispin’s car.

I like very much the comment at the beginning of Beautiful Boxer‘He fights like a man so he can become a woman’. It really shows the conflict inside a transsexual person and the pressure of society. For many of us, to be ourselves, rarely becomes a question. We take what people call us for granted. For a transsexual person, it is a painful journey and very costly. Nong Toom has to pay with a lot of sweat, bruises, blood, money, a lot of money. She may not be able to be herself if she is not a champion kick boxer, if she does not ‘fight like a man’. She may not be able to apply make up as she wants if that does not help defeat her opponents or make more people come to see the boxing. This means that she is allowed to do that not because of herself but because of others.

In Beautiful Boxer, a transsexual person is presented as a serious human being who is looking for herself and trying to fulfill her human rights and sexual rights.

It really bothers me when I reflect on most of the films or TV shows I have seen in Vietnam that have transgender or transsexual characters. It seems like there are more and more films and shows including transgender and transsexual characters and people. However, this is not to show acceptance but the lack of it. Transgendered people are often portrayed in a ridiculous way, just to bring laughs to audiences. We really need a film like Beautiful Boxer to show on main screens in Vietnam.

After I came back from Films of Desire, I bought the CD ofBeautiful Boxer. Surprisingly, it is available in the market but I didn’t know about it before. Many of my colleagues asked me to show the film and have more discussions in the office. I have planned on doing it very soon. I don’t know if there is any chance for the film to be screened in movie halls in Vietnam but it should be. Besides the important messages that the film brings, one reason to show it in Vietnam is that it is a story based in Thailand – a country which is very near Vietnam. So when the film is shown here, people cannot say that it is a Western notion.

Finally, I want to say Congratulations Nong Toom! Congratulations to the director Ekachai Uekrongtham! You have brought hope and confidence to many people and many families.’

The last sequence ultimately highlights Reyes’ genius, as well as his authentic trust for the film spectators to derive their own meanings out of the film, as if to say: ‘Choose your own politics’.

Hoang Tu Anh is a founding member, senior researcher and program manager at the Consultation of Investment in Health Promotion (CIHP), Hanoi, Vietnam. She is also founder of the first on-line counselling program for young people on sexuality, reproductive health and HIV/AIDS in Vietnam. She also works on research and programs to promote gender equity and sexual and reproductive rights of women, women who have experienced violence, MSM and PLWHA.