Review: ‘The Iron Ladies’

Flaming silliness allegedly based on a true story -- though more reminiscent of "The Mighty Ducks" than of "The Sorrow and the Pity" -- "The Iron Ladies" became Thailand's second-highest grossing local pic ever earlier this year. It also managed to draw considerable attention at the Toronto Fest, no doubt abetted by cast members' omnipresent camping-about-town. Whether this slick, genial comedy can fly far as an export item remains anyone's guess, however: Its screaming-queen stereotypes will look pretty retro in most Western markets, even if an earnest pro-tolerance message disarms potential offense. Gay fest bookings, at least, are assured.

Flaming silliness allegedly based on a true story — though more reminiscent of “The Mighty Ducks” than of “The Sorrow and the Pity” — “The Iron Ladies” became Thailand’s second-highest grossing local pic ever earlier this year. It also managed to draw considerable attention at the Toronto Fest, no doubt abetted by cast members’ omnipresent camping-about-town. Whether this slick, genial comedy can fly far as an export item remains anyone’s guess, however: Its screaming-queen stereotypes will look pretty retro in most Western markets, even if an earnest pro-tolerance message disarms potential offense. Gay fest bookings, at least, are assured.

Tone set by opening credit seg’s cut-out animation and cartoon sound effects, pic charts the underdog rise of a Lampang boys’ volleyball team. Assembled out of desperation when all save one of its jocks quit in a macho huff over arrival of their first-ever female coach, the new crew is biologically male but otherwise gender-blurred to the max.

Despite low expectations, however, outrageous cross-dresser Jung, moody androgyne Mon, muscle-bound Army horndog Nong, post-op transsexual Pia and closet case Wit prove as athletically skilled as they are behaviorally over the top.

Urged on by their own ultra-effeminate cheer squad, the team fast qualifies for a national championship competition. Of course, obstacles arise, including holdover player Chai’s increasing discomfort with his teammates’ theatrics, as well as the anti-gay prejudices of various fans, officials and rival teams. Upbeat outcome is no big surprise, however.

While credible court action mostly takes a backseat to slapstick, camp quips and backstage dramas, pic hews to basic sports pic triumph-over-the-odds conventions, venturing from familiar terrain only in surface novelty. Still, veteran Thai commercials helmer Yongyoot Thongkongtoon milks that key difference for all it’s worth in a high-gloss, fast-paced feature bow. He peppers progress with cinema in-jokes and clever soundtrack-tune choices.

But main attraction here is the lead performers, whose wildly extroverted, confident turns lend the broad comic slant a flavor that’s more gotta-be-me affirming than ridiculing.

Some expressions of homosexual angst (as when Mon broods, “There are no happy endings for gays”) will strike Western auds as dated, “Boys in the Band” fodder, apt as they might be within current Thai social context. But pic’s good-natured brass and flash succeeds in steamrollering across an inspirationally inclusive, if unsophisticated, message.

Tech package is Hollywood-slick, in keeping with shamelessly commercial, escapist tenor overall.

The Iron Ladies

Taiwan

Production

A Fortissimo Film Sales presentation of a Tai Entertainment production. (International sales: Fortissimo Film Sales, Amsterdam.) Produced by Visute Poolvoralaks. Co-producers, Chatchavarin Klainak, Pasert Wiwatabanonpong, Chanajai Tonsaithong. Directed by Yongyoot Thongkongtoon. Screenplay, Visuttichai Boonyakarjana, Jira Maligool, Thongkongtoon.

Crew

Camera (color), Jira Maligool; editor, Sunit Assavinikul; original musical, Wild At Heart; production designer, Naruecha Vijitvanit; costume designer, Ekkasit Meeprasertkul; sound (Dolby Digital), Amornpong Methakunawut. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Discovery), Sept. 12, 2000. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Jessadaporn Pholdee, Sahapap Virakamin, Ekachai Buranapanit, Giorio Maiocchi, Chaicharn Nimpoonsawas, Gokgorn Benjathikul, Siridhana Hongsopon, Jojo Mioxshi, Pormasith Siticharoengkul.
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