The Iron Ladies

2000, Movie, NR, 104 mins


Inspired by the true story of a volleyball team composed almost entirely of gay and transgendered players who won the 1996 Thai national championships, first-time feature film director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon whipped up an inspirational, gay-themed comedy that's equal parts PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT and MYSTERY, ALASKA. Repeatedly rejected by homophobic coaches, talented volleyball enthusiast Mon (Sahaparp Virakamin) despairs of ever playing on a serious amateur team. Then former high-school coach Bee (Siridhana Hongsophon), a soft-spoken lesbian, is hired to whip the Lampang District team into shape. All too familiar with prejudice herself, she promptly adds Mon and his longtime friend, the flamboyant Jung (Chaichan Nimpoonsawas), to her team roster. This doesn't sit well with the team's macho men, who promptly quit rather than play alongside katoeys ("lady boys"). Undeterred, Bee asks Mon and Jung if they have any athletic friends. Both were enthusiastic college players, so they round up all the gay alumni they can find: Sgt. Nong (Giorgio Maiocchi), a muscular drag queen notorious for deflating volleyballs with his perfectly manicured fingernails; transsexual cabaret performer Pia (Gokgorn Benjathikul), and closeted Wit (Ekachai Buranapanit), whose Chinese-Thai family is hustling him into an ill-considered marriage. Bee rounds out the team with a trio of former students, giggling cross-dressers April (Phromsit Sittichumroenkun), May (Suttipong Sittichumroenkun) and June (Anucha Chatkaew). At first the "Iron Ladies," as they come to be known, are treated as a joke. Then they start kicking some serious ass on the court, beating the pants off teams of "real men" and overcoming heartache, self-doubt, romantic rivalries and broken nails to become national symbols of gay pride. Despite predictions that Thai audiences would never support a film dominated by sympathetic gay characters, the film became a blockbuster hit back home. Its heartfelt message of tolerance and self-respect would be right at home in Hollywood, but no modern-day American director would dare make a film featuring such an outrageously un-PC collection of flighty, mincing, sissy-boy stereotypes. That said, the closing credits run alongside footage of the real-life Iron Ladies, and if it's anything by which to judge, the film's largely straight actors (the lone exception is Benjathikul) can't be accused of exaggerating for comic effect. The novelty factor aside — after all, how many Thai movies about gay volleyball players do you see in a year? — it's a frequently funny diversion that doesn't have a mean-spirited bone in its body. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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