Bending genderand kicking butt


Parinya Charoenphol is no stranger to Japan. Back in 1998 when she was a Muay Thai champion, Parinya had flown over to fight against wrestler Kyoko Inoue at the Budokan, in an extremely rare, mixed-gender match-up. The tickets were sold out months in advance. Parinya recalled being taken aback when Japanese fans shouted “kirei (beautiful)” at her — a similar-sounding word in Thai means “ugly girl.”

It was only after she returned home that she learned the Japanese were paying her the highest compliment and since then, she said, “Japan had always been a very comfortable place for me.”

All this was revealed at the Tokyo press conference to promote “Beautiful Boxer,” the film based on her life, during which Parinya appeared with director Echakai Uekrongtham and actor/Muay Thai athlete Asanee Suwan, who plays her.

Suwan, when asked of his first impression of Parinya, said: “Initially, I was suspicious of her. . . . I suspected that she was treating Muay Thai like a commercial project and that she was simply using it for self-promotion purposes.

“But then I watched her fight and knew right away how serious and dedicated she was. She was really strong and very good. It was then that I knew that I wanted to appear in a movie about Parinya.”

Director Uekrongtham expressed no such reservations: “I was very interested in Parinya’s life long before deciding to make the film. I mean, here was a Muay Thai champion, one of the best in Thailand, who wished with all his heart to become a woman and wear makeup and wear skirts.

“Imagine the inner turmoil, the contradictions, the confusion! And then I decided that a film about him must be made.”

The problem was casting. It was hard to find a strong Muay Thai boxer who was also equipped with feminine graces and even after deciding upon Asanee Suwan, he feared that he would be too masculine to play Parinya.

As the days went by, though, Asanee became more girl-like and even his skin began to look different.

“I can only describe the transformation as amazing,” said the director.

Asanee, on the other hand, stressed that putting on makeup and assuming the graces and charm of a beautiful woman didn’t undermine his masculinity or interfere with his drive as a fighter.

But he added: “For the first time in my life, I think I almost knew how women felt. And I could understand their desire to make themselves up and look beautiful. What sets Parinya apart from most women, though, is is that she’s all that and really strong at the same time!”