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[whitespace] 'The Iron Ladies'
Volley Follies: Drag queen Jung (Chaichan Nimpoonsawas) heads a team of transvestite volleyball champions.

Field of Queens

These Iron Ladies try to balance too many balls at once

By Richard von Busack

AN OLD HOLLYWOOD story tells of a writer pitching a producer a film based on the life of Nijinsky. After international acclaim, the ballet dancer died in the madhouse, suffering from the delusion that he was a horse. The producer thought this was great material, but it needed a happy ending: "How about, he wins the Kentucky Derby?" Ever since The Bad News Bears, movies about crazy athletes can only have one possible ending, a note of triumph that validates the player's eccentricity. The finish of the film The Iron Ladies holds no surprise: they win the Kentucky Derby.

The Iron Ladies is based on the true story of a group of gay men, some in drag, who were championship volleyball contenders. The closing credits show the faces of the actual players. I wondered what their stories were; you won't have much of an inkling from watching this cheerleaderish, fictionalized comedy.

Director Youngyooth Thongkonthun follows the rise of the Iron Ladies in the old familiar way, with early triumphs, intolerance met and bested, a minor defeat to keep players' heads from swelling. The title sequence, illuminated with defunct cartoon characters like Adam Ant and Ricochet Rabbit, sets the tone: this film is always going to be cartoonish and adorable. Early on, Julaphong (Jung for short, played by Chaicharn Nimpulsawasdi) shows sign of a sharp tongue. Sadly for lovers of salty dialogue, he gets nicer during the course of the movie as he helps assemble a winning team of rejects, including a transsexual, Pia (Kokkorn Benjathikoon), and three sissy triplets named April, May and June ("Oh, aren't they darling!" sighs Jung.)

Mainstream audiences have shown that they're willing to accept the existence of gay people, as long as they're clownish and celibate. The clowning here--Jung constantly fretting over a chipped fingernail--is broad. The only inkling of a romantic life is right where it's easiest to accept. The love story is the heartbreak of the beautiful chick-with-a-dick Pia, abandoned by her bisexual boyfriend, who had to get married at his parents' insistence. In the best joke in The Iron Ladies, Pia is told, "You look like the last Miss Thailand," and she replies, "We had the same surgeon."

Certainly, the movie is all for acceptance; it's technically in good shape, and there's an amusing twist on the way the winning ball lands. The lesbian Coach Bee (Shiriohana Hongsopon)--another unthreatening celibate--stresses that the purpose of sports is to teach sportsmanship. This principle gets overridden by our own winner take all, loser take nothing attitude toward sports. Still, The Iron Ladies is so fluffy that it makes Priscilla, Queen of the Desert look like World War II gay-persecution story Bent.

The Iron Ladies (Not rated; 104 min.), directed by Youngyooth Thongkonthun and starring Jesdaporn Pholdee, Chaicharn Nimpulsawasdi, Kokkorn Benjathikoon and Shiriohana Hongsopon, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the September 13-19, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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