The Iron Ladies

(Sa Tree Lex)


It's really hard forming an opinion on The Iron Ladies. The movie tells a true story of the 1996 Thai national volleyball champions, a team that consisted of gay men, drag queens, transsexuals, and one straight man. This is also (to this point) at second highest grossing film in Thai history. In a way, it is an inspiring story and comes across as light and amusing. On the other hand, the stereotyping of gay men comes at the expense of the story and is so blatant and nearly offensive that any goodwill generated by the humor loses its tone quickly. On the whole, this is another good (or bad) example of typical Asian cinema, with its loud, bad acting and exaggerated humor and gestures. There is nothing subtle in most 'popular' Asian movies, and The Iron Ladies merely fuels this stereotype.

The volleyball team comes about as the result of the new coach, Coach Bee (Shiriohana Hongsopon). Bee is new to the team, and wants to choose her own team. This is great news for Mon (Sahaparp Virakamin), left off the original team because he is gay. Not only does Mon make the new team, his flamboyant friend Jung (Chaichan Nimpoonsawas). One by one, the rest of the team quits in protest, except for Chai (Jessdaporn Pholdee, Dang Bireley and the Young Gangsters) and Wit (Ekachi Buranpanit). Left with a void, Mon and Jung recruit their friends to fill the empty spots. Nong (Giorgio Maiocchi) comes from the army and Pia (Gokgorn Benjathikul, yes, this is a man) is a transsexual. Bee brings in her friends April, May, and June, three gay men who are the most offensive stereotypes of gay men in recent history.

With a conventional script by Visuthichai Boonyakarinjana, Jira Maligool, and Thongkongtoon and direction by Youngyouth Thongkonthun, The Iron Ladies resembles any number of domestic sports movies about the underdog (like the currently playing Hardball). They even attempt to bring forth a message of tolerance and humanity near the end of the movie, but it is so out of step with the rest of the movie that it falls flat. The entire movie is a (supposed) comedy, and any injection of seriousness in it is an unenviable task, and Thongkonthun's attempt is too short and arbitrary to make any difference.

Of all the characters, Wit and Chai are the only ones with substance. Wit's family does not know about his homosexuality, and Chai is dealing with how to overcome his stereotypes about his teammates. However, the movie spends too little time on them, and more time on people like Jung, who are merely comic relief caricatures. Mon looks like a potentially interesting character, but the story never delves into what he is thinking about. It takes a lot more to develop complex characters than have them wear lots of make up, prance around and act as effeminate as possible. In comedies like this one, there is a thin line between lampooning stereotypes in an amusing way and in an offensive one. The Iron Ladies blows past that line without ever looking back.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 44 minutes, Thai with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains language, an easy R, possibly a PG-13

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