The Iron Ladies
2000, NR, 104 min. Directed by Yongyoot Thongkongtoon. Starring Chaichan Nimpoonsawas, Sahaparp Virakamin, Siridhana Hongsophon, Gorgio Maiocchi, Gokgorn Benjathikul, Jessdaporn Pholdee.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 26, 2001
The Iron Ladies, which recounts the unlikely true-life triumph of a Thai male volleyball team composed primarily of gay men and screaming queens, serves up more attitude than a Saturday night drag show. In fact, there hasn't been this much hip-swaying, lip-pursing, eyelash-fluttering, and wrist-flinging on the screen since The Boys in the Band. While the nonstop camp of most of the team members may strike you as over the top and beyond -- ever seen a guy burst into tears when he breaks a nail? -- the footage of their real-life counterparts accompanying the end credits indicates that the film's characterizations are really not exaggerated too much. Even so, The Iron Ladies can be exhausting to watch when its more colorful characters dominate its scenes, which they invariably do with unrelenting nelliness. The underdog angle is the heart of the movie, and director Thongkongtoon keeps things as engaging as possible as The Iron Ladies moves toward the climactic championship game. The final matchup is a true rabble-rouser that is smartly executed, shot, and edited -- nothing in the film preceding it prepares you for its ingenuity. (When one of the team's players gets knocked unconscious by a powerful spike, he experiences a little disco reverie that will have you rolling on the floor.) At times, the not-too-subtle message of tolerance and acceptance bogs down in a preachy self-righteousness, and the film bites off more than it can chew when attempting to address the social and familial problems that gay men, in and out of make-up, often experience. The actors, most of whom make their film debut here, let loose with every feminine caricature in the book; it's not a disciplined acting style, but it does have its moments. The most intriguing of the performers is Nimpoonsawas as the smiley-faced Jung, who has a penchant for barrettes and flirting with the opposing team. Always upbeat but quick to anger, Jung has the film's best lines. (When the boyfriend of the transsexual player leaves her for another woman, Jung consoles her by saying, “Bisexuals. You just can't trust them.”) Even with all its faults, The Iron Ladies is a satisfying Cinderella story in which its outcast crew finally get their glass slippers, if not handsome princes. In the greatest of storytelling traditions, it is a true fairy tale with a happy ending.