Saving Private Tootsie

Director: Kittikorn Liasirikun
Starring: Sorrapong Chatree, Putthichai AmartTayakul, Seri Wongmontha, Ornnapa Krissadee, "Som-O" Yonratee Komglong, Dr. Seri Wongmonta
Running Time: 96 minutes
Year: 2003

One of the more unique aspects about Thai film that may strike many Westerners as odd or possibly even perverse is the presence of transgender characters in many of their films. One of Thailand’s biggest international hits was a film called “Iron Ladies” that is about a team of transsexual/transvestite volleyball players. Its sequel was released in 2003 along with two other films that featured stories around these types of characters – “Beautiful Boxer” which is based on a true story of a transsexual kickboxer who is very popular in Thailand and this film, Saving Private Tootsie. Even in many of their other films, there are often transgender characters thrown into the mix – often as comedic relief. In Thailand this group of people are generally referred to as Katoeys or Lady Boys.

The film initially strikes you as a basic “gay” comedy with loads of catty remarks and the characters being referred to – often by themselves – as fags, ferries, queens, queers and daisies – but as the film progresses it surprisingly turns into a fairly tense action driven plot with a nice emotional impact. Perhaps it may seem a bit clichéd and contrived as it knocks you over the head with the message that these people are human too, but it does it very well within the confines of a good solid story that keeps your interest till the very end.
A Thai commercial plane goes down just inside the border of Burma and while most of the passengers are saved and rounded up for return to Thailand, a small group of five of them had run into the forest when they heard gunfire and become lost. This group is a spectrum of transgendered males – from a basic gay man (played by Dr. Seri, a famous gay spokesman in Thailand) to a snippy transvestite (Tongtong Mokjok) to a young transsexual (Yonratee Komglong) only halfway through the transformation (i.e. enhanced breasts but still with penis) to an older bitter transsexual who considers herself a complete woman now.
The other side of the border of Burma is not a good place to be – it is in a constant state of warfare between the Thais, the Burmese, the local tribes and drug smugglers – it is part of the infamous Golden Triangle. They are captured by the Tai Yai, a militant tribal group, who accuses them of being a “gay tribal group that plays with their assholes”. To which one of them replies, “We ferries must eat men, mustn’t we”. The film begins turning serious though when the Tai Yai attempt to turn them over to a small covert contingent of Thai soldiers who have come to bring them back. The handover turns into a shoot out when the Burmese show up and the Tai Yai think the Thais have betrayed them. When the Thai government decides not to send in a helicopter to pick them up, it turns into a dangerous and often deadly trek back to the border with land mines and combat fire to contend with. There is also a fair amount of animosity between the Thai soldiers and the gays that brings them to the edge of disaster. One of the soldiers is played by one of my favorite Thai character actors (Monrak Transistor, Last Life in the Universe, Crazy Cops) – and I finally was able to figure out his name – Ampon Ratanawong.
The literal translation of the Thai title of this film is “Pink Camouflaged Battling” and one has to guess that the choice of the English title was a play on the American films, “Saving Private Ryan” and "Tootsie". The remake rights have been picked up by the U.S. company, Distant Horizon. As a note – a few of the songs in the soundtrack are from a Thai group called Carabao. They are one of my favorite groups – known for their political songs and great guitar driven tunes – and their CDs are available through the Internet. I am not sure but the actor who plays the chief of the Tai Yai may be the lead singer and writer of the group. The actress/actor Yonratee Komglong who plays the young very feminant transsexual has apparently become quite the celebrity and poster "girl" because of this film and will be appearing in other films - there is one shot of her that I have to admit reminded me of Joey Wong in Swordsman II!

My rating for this film: 7.0