Thai films are such a rarity on the local arthouse circuit that this one comes with in-built curiosity value. The Iron Ladies is a rarity in another sense as well: it is one of the few successful mainstream Thai movies to deal with gay issues.
Released to coincide with the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, The Iron Ladies is a very simple-minded comedy peddling an entirely predictable message of tolerance. Based on a true story, it follows the rise to fame of a male volleyball team comprised mainly of gays, transsexuals and transvestites.
As a sports movie, it achieves the requisite feel-good vibe. We see the iron ladies recruited from all walks of life, observe them training, and are drawn into the game-by-game agonies of the championship finals. The elderly coach Bee (Sirithana Hongsophol) is an especially appealing character in her quiet strength and emotional restraint.
Director and co-writer Yongyooth Thongkonthun does not overly stress the theme of social oppression, and refuses to present his motley crew of gender misfits as victims. Instead, he plays up the enthusiastic and kindly reactions of those who support the team, such as parents and teenage fans.
He is less successful with the often grating and wearisome gags – screaming-queen humour centred on the player Jung (Chaichan Nimpoolsawasdi) and a set of triplet cheerleaders named April, May and June.
The Iron Ladies has another major problem, a common one for first-time directors: the sports action is very poorly filmed. Lacking any decently choreographed fluidity, the volleyball scenes are just a frenetic mish-mash of insert shots, edited to a pop beat: hands bashing balls and players falling to the floor.
Still, any movie that showcases a Thai cover version of the old Bay City Rollers hit "Saturday Night" has definite entertainment value.
© Adrian Martin March 2001