Gay Cultures/Satree Lex Review




วัฒนธรรมของเกย์ไทย - Thai Gay Cultures

Tick - Jesadapal Poldee (ติ๊ก เจษฎาภรณ์ ผลดี) appears in สตรีเหล็ก--(The Iron Ladies, whose Thai title many people prefer to transcribe as Satree Lex) as an actor in the leading role. He plays a gorgeous, congenial and, of course, straight volleyball player surrounded by his AbFab gay team-mates. I am confident to say that, with Satree Lex, his face has been recognized internationally in the world's film market following his role as Dang Bireley in a hot 'Thai Scorsese' film: ๒๔๙๙ อันธพาลครองเมือง (2499 Dang Bireley & Young Gangsters).

While surfing the Web one day, I came across the following review of Satree Lex and would like to share it with ya all:

Triumph of the spirit
by Sherman Chau

Katoey is the light-hearted term that refers to the transvestites and transsexuals who can be found everywhere in Thailand. Don't let this seemingly lenient attitude fool you, though. Even in a country associated, as pundits say, with loose sexual morals, tolerance does not necessarily mean acceptance, nor an absence of negative social scrutiny.

As one of the five katoey characters the box-office smash Satree Lex (The Iron Ladies) laments: "We're the forgotten orphans of society." And that is precisely the point that the film is trying to make.

The Iron Ladies features the bizarre but true story of a katoey-led volleyball team that won a real-life national men's title in 1996. Made with a modest budget of about 10 million baht, the film marks a major step forward for the Thai cinema not only in terms of the subject matter, but also in the sense that it combines sports and comedy movies--two genres not exactly appealing to Thai audiences--in a way that gently touches the viewers' heart strings.

It is also the first movie to be made about Thailand's transvestites since The Last Song (Pleng Sudtai) in the early 1980s, which tells the story of a katoey cabaret singer who committed suicide.

"We haven't had a Thai comedy in recent years, (movies were) mostly action, drama and horror," says director Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, who seems at a loss to explain the unexpected success of his film. "Maybe it's different from other Thai films out there. Maybe it just came out at the right time. In Thailand, we usually see gays in exaggerated and sometimes ridiculous forms, like in TV katoey dramas. I tried to make the film more
natural, not too stereotyped, like the way my gay friends act in real life
," says Thongkongtoon, who directed television commercials before making this movie.

Casting was the biggest challenge and took three months before the right actors were found. Four gay characters are actually played by male actors, but for Gokgorn Benjathikul, who plays the gender-transformed Pia, being gay is not an act. The same goes for the triplet characters--April, May and June (Pormasith Siticharoengkul, Suttipong Siticharoengkul, Anucha Chatkaew)--who are actually casting and talent scouts for Thongkongtoon.

Drawing repeat business and introducing hilarious new gay slang to the mainstream could be the other reasons why The Iron Ladies is now the second-highest grossing film in Thai history, after the ghost story Nang Nak. It made the equivalent of HK$42 million, half of which came from Bangkok cinemas alone.

The uniquely Thai gay vocabulary has emerged as an unexpected star of the film. So many people were writing down the previously unknown terms that the filmmakers decided to print pages of Thai Gayspeak as a souvenir for viewers. Unless you speak Thai, though you'll have to settle for the watered-down Cantonese and English versions. First, Thongkongtoon says, the slang is too difficult to translate accurately from Thai. Second, even if they could, they would be too outrageous for publication.

Just because The Iron Ladies is a humorous take on a funny, true story doesn't mean it overlooks weighty social issues in favour of cheap laughs. As if the sexual preference of the leading characters in The Iron Ladies was not already controversial enough, the team's female coach, Bee, is lesbian, which raises the eyebrows of some sports bureaucrats. After her capable but very homophobic captain ditches the team, she is forced to resort to a motley crew of volleyball-crazy katoeys. Mon and Jung first join the team, and immediately recruit their old pals who are good at the sport. Nong, the soft-hearted hunk, is picked from a provincial boot camp, while Pia, the only transsexual among the group (and the only real katoey actor in the film), has to quit one of Pattaya's most popular dance clubs to get on board. Wit, the only son of a Chinese family who tries to at least act like a straight man, is plucked right from his engagement ceremony, leaving his bride-to-be utterly flustered.

The ensuing sequences of their training and the team's progress in the national championship are created with such warmth, humour, and humanism that many of the film's technical shortcomings can be forgiven with ease. Even with the universal message, though, Thongkongtoon still saw the undertaking as a huge risk. He is known to have confessed, "I broke every taboo in the business, making this film", but his gamble seems to have paid off. "I think the key to the success of the film is that people can relate the characters to their friends or to people in their neighbourhood," he says. "In the end, everyone leaves the theatre with smiles and good feelings. They look at life from the brighter side. Things may look bright in celluloid, but real life is actually slightly dimmer, a sign that full acceptance of gays has yet to arrive."

In The Iron Ladies, Jung's parents are very supportive of his sexual orientation. "I love the foundation you're wearing - what number is it?" prods his father jokingly. "They know about my gay lifestyle, but they aren't as supportive as in the movie," says the real-life Jung, also known as Kongrit Singnukot.

In the film, Wit is a closet homosexual whose gayness is discovered by his family when he is seen playing with the Iron Ladies on national television. "My life didn't happen the way it did in the movie. In fact, my parents never even watched me play volleyball," says Nipat Leelaapiradee, who is yet unsure whether he is gay or bisexual and does not wish to discuss the matter, or be photographed.

Although Ladies has a sympathetic slant, some characters only help reinforce the stereotypical images of katoeys, who are often shown in various media as screeching, overdressed, one-dimensional, comic characters playing for cheap laughs. It is interesting to note that the local distributor of the film took the trouble of dubbing its dialogue into Cantonese, rendering its thematic poignancy and carefree humour more appealing and accessible to the Hong Kong audience. And not just plain, old dubbing; they invited such
popular artists as Ekin Cheng, Eric Kot, Sandra Ng Kwan-yu, and Stephen Fung to lend their familiar voices to The Iron Ladies.

It is ironic in the film that as soon as the team drops its distinctly feminine attitude and bans the players from putting on make-up, they start losing. When Chai gives in and allows his mates to go back to "acting like tootsies", however, they start winning again.
Perhaps therein lies one of life's secrets: we are what we are after all, and can be our best when we're allowed to act according to our true nature.

Source: From a Google Cache of Hong Kong iMail, dated August 31, 2000


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