"Beautiful Boxer"

I used to be a boxer so I like boxing movies and I ordered one from Netflix called "Beautiful Boxer," which is a true story about a Thai kick-boxer. It's a Thai movie so it's not artsy-fartsy and pretentious. And it's surprisingly well-made technically with good sound and video editing unlike most Brit movies where they seem not to have heard of over-dubbing or post-production labs.

The movie seems straightforward enough at first. It's the life story of the famous Thai boxer, Nong Toom. He's a poor peasant kid who gets bullied. His dad tells him to learn boxing and stick up for himself. He becomes a famous boxer and gives all of his winnings to his poor parents.

The boxing is realistic - the actor is a Thai kick-boxer in real life. Of course kick-boxing is a bit wilder than western boxing (but not necessarily more brutal - let's face it, Queensbury-rules boxing is pretty vicious) and there are some fights even nastier than anything in "Rocky."

(Yeah, I know - I can hear it already: boxing is barbaric blah blah. Yes, it is but it is also about skill not only brute force and can be a very useful talent in a pinch.)

Then the movie gets a bit different when we find out that Nong Toom also happens to be a transvestite - which is fairly well accepted in easy-going Buddhist Thailand. His trainer and agent decide to cash in on this and market Toom as a freak. Despite this wrinkle, Toom is a brilliant boxer and keeps winning fights till he makes it to the top - the Lumini Tournament in Bangkok and later a tournament in the Tokyo Dome in Japan.

I enjoyed this movie not only because I like true-life stories - and boxing - but because it reminded me of my own childhood. (No, I'm not a transvestite but I was definitely a sissy when I was a kid.)

Like Toom's dad, my own dad realized very early on that I was a "pansy." My mom didn't mind that I was sissified but it bothered my dad. I can remember over-hearing them having a big fight about me.

"He's a pansy," said my dad.

"No, he's not," said my mom, adding, "he's just sensitive."

"No, he's queer," said my dad.

"Don't say that!" mom shouted.

When I was about seven, my dad took me aside and gave me a talk about being a sissy and told me that I had to learn to defend myself because bullies would pick on me. I didn't really understand what he was talking about but I felt his concern. Then he told me that he had enrolled me in boxing classes so that I would be able to stick up for myself if anyone called me a "pansy" or a "queer."

At first I hated boxing especially when I had to fight my best friend, Roy Clucas, in my first tournament. (Hey, Roy, did you ever think we'd live another 50 years?) But I got good at it and won most of my fights and got lots of trophies - and I became tough and fearless.

And my dad was right - I was called "pansy" and "queer" and picked on and bullied AND he was right to make me learn boxing because no one picked on me twice unless they wanted a black eye, broken nose or a few loose teeth.

As for the transvestite stuff - I have never really understood it and actually find it kind of creepy and stupid. I first met a real TV when I was living in Berkeley in 1978-9. He was married to a lovely woman and had two beautiful daughters. He and I both belonged to the same Hindu guru-cult at the time and were both rebels in that we liked to smoke pot eventhough it was verboten by the cult.

One day he confessed to me that he liked dressing up as a women. That didn't bother me since he assured me that his wife didn't mind. Soon after he told me that he was going to start dressing and living as a woman all the time. That didn't bother me either eventhough he was a homely fellow and make-up paradoxically made him look even plainer. But I was a bit rattled when he told me that I should stop calling him Tom and start calling him Tina.

What really did shake me up was when he told me that he was going to have a sex-change operation. I just could not imagine why he would want to "destroy" something that God had given to him. I became angry and told him that he smoked too much dope and was not thinking straight and that he could solve his problem intellectually without doing something so drastic and destructive. That was the last time I saw him.

Watching this movie last night made me wonder if I had been too narrow-minded about Tom/Tina. Who am I to judge what goes on in another human being's heart and soul? But I don't kick myself too much over Tom/Tina because he/she was a pretty self-centered and silly person and is probably an angry Bush-hating Berkeley commie nowadays anyway.

PS Another boxing movie that I really enjoyed was a South African movie, "The Power of One."