Political Film Society - The Iron Ladies

PFS Film Review
The Iron Ladies (Sa-ree-lex)


The Iron LadiesIn 1996 a mostly gay Thai volleyball team, the first of its kind, won the national amateur championship. The Iron Ladies (Sa-ree-lex), a film based on the story with clips from some of the games as credits roll, won Audience Awards for best feature film in the New York and San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festivals. Volleyball competition in Thailand starts within various geographic districts and then progresses to the national level. When the film begins, a very masculine Mon (played by Sahaparp Virakamin) is disappointed that the coach does not select him for the District 5 team because he is gay. However, the coach becomes unavailable for unexplained reasons, so the athletic coordinator names a replacement, Bee (played by Siridhana Hongsophon), a lesbian. Bee insists on selecting her own team, so everyone has to try out again. Bee then picks Mon, several straight players, and a much more effeminate gay, Jung (played by Chaichan Nimpoonsawas). The macho straights, however, revolt, insisting that they will not play with gays on the team. Bee then asks Mon and Jung to recruit other gays, and they locate various friends, even going to an army boot camp to get Sergeant Nong (played by Giorgio Maiocchi) and to a gay cabaret for transsexual Pia (played by Gokgorn Benjathikul, the only non-straight among the main six characters). They round out the team with a straight guy named Chai (played by Jessdaporn Pholdee) and a law student, Wit (played by Ekachai Buranapanit), whose parents do not know that their only son is gay. Bee then adds three effeminate Buddhist monks, April, May, and June (played by Phromsit and Suttipong Sittichumroenkhun and Anucha Chatkaew), as reserve players. The point of the film is not just that gays can win a national championship, but to focus on how gays fit into Thai society, a theme that previously was a box office failure in the Land of Smiles. [According to Thai Buddhist beliefs, everyone is reincarnated, so gays and lesbians must have done something very bad in a previous life to be so punished that they do not fit into the norm. Some Thais accept gays, others merely tolerate them, many look down upon them, a very few are openly intolerant, but there is very little gasbashing because of the view, intimated in the film, that those with hostile attitudes may end up gay or lesbian in the next life. Although two recent Thai prime ministers are rumored to have been closeted gays, out-of-the-closet gays and lesbians have been increasingly prominent in business and sports within Thailand in recent years.] The Iron Ladies, directed by Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, depicts a range of attitudes and behaviors within the team, from masculinity to femininity, but quite early we hear the view that gays are especially blessed because they incorporate personality characteristics of both sexes, not merely the bland components of just one. Perhaps the major surprise in the film is how straight people of all ages in Thailand are enormously amused by the antics of the most effeminate, a contagion that passes onto filmviewers quite early in the movie. When sports officials are displeased that "real men" are not on the team, Coach Bee retorts that true sportsmanship involves fair play, and at one point the audience repeatedly chants "Iron Ladies" to ensure that the team will not be disqualified. Later, we view how Wit’s parents try to remove him from the team after he appears on television; nevertheless, he soon returns, determined to live his own life. We see how transsexual Pia’s boyfriend Chat (played by Pakorn Vipatawat) get engaged to a woman, bringing anguish to Pia, though Chat later confesses his mistake to Pia. After the team does poorly after team captain Chai tells those who wear make-up not to do so, he relents and the team rebounds, showing that stripping identity from effeminate gays robs them of their will to do their best. The philosophical way in which gays rationalize abuse is especially impressive, notably when Coach Bee remarks, "Triumphing over yourself is the greatest triumph of all." Frequently showing how the team draws strength from Buddhist principles, The Iron Ladies may well be the most profound film of all time to popularize the virtues of Buddhism. The Political Film Society has nominated The Iron Ladies as best film exposé of the year and best film on human rights. MH

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