What a delightful film. It's irrepressibly happy and it made me laugh. It's not as good as the original The Iron Ladies, but that was one of my favourite films of 2000.
It's about volleyball-playing drag queens. The first film was based on the true story of Thailand's first national team of screaming poofters and it was so brilliant that it made me paradoxically reluctant to watch the sequel. The original drew its emotional power from a "triumph of the underdog" theme. How could you recapture that? You couldn't. I was afraid of another Ghostbusters 2, in which the filmmakers smash up everything they've achieved and go for the reset button, for the sake of a remake in sequel's clothing.
What's more, that does sort of happen. Our heroes have followed up their success by splitting up, with Giorgio Maiocchi having joined a rival gay volleyball team and Kokkorn Benjathikoon now living in China. Everyone else is still playing volleyball together, but it's not the same. Is everyone going to see the light and rejoin their friends? What do you think?
However I was pleasantly surprised when the film turned out to be fairly relaxed about the volleyball side of things. Getting back together with Maiocchi and Benjathikoon has nothing to do with sport. It's just friends looking out for each other. In fairness there's no bad blood with the ladyboy and everyone's happy to see him/her again, but Maiocchi has been shooting his mouth off on television with statements like "I'm never going back", "they didn't support me" and "now I know who my real friends are". Ouch. That's what I call burning your bridges. However at the same time, this sequel is also a prequel from when the Iron Ladies were all at university together and discovering each other. One of them had been hilariously in denial about his sexuality. We see their friendships develop, thus creating thematic unity.
It's about friendship. It's about what people do for each other. The rival gay volleyball team is almost identical to the Iron Ladies, even down to having lookalike players and the same make-up (one ladyboy, one straight man)... but they're doing it for the money. It's a business endeavour. This doesn't make them evil and you're perfectly happy to see them do well, but it's a key thematic contrast that underpins the entire last act.
Crucially though, it's still just a ton of fun to watch our heroes flaming it up. I can't imagine not adoring these characters. They're so full of life. They're adorable. They kept making me laugh and I'd have been happy to watch 100 minutes of them doing pretty much anything at all. The strength of the movie's theme just makes it even better. I suppose I should warn you that some people might have a problem with the apparent gay stereotypes if they're feeling politically correct, especially given that yet again there's no gay love story in this screamingly gay film and on the contrary, Yongyoot Thongkongtoon seems keen on the virtues of marriage and children.
Oh, and Benjathikoon is still beautiful, but this time you're in no doubt about the fact that she's a ladyboy. When we first meet her at university, she's saving up for an operation to get breasts.
One oddity is all the music. I don't know if I'd call this a musical, but only because its songs aren't fulfilling the same story functions. There are certainly a ton of songs on the soundtrack, each of which is the background to a montage sequence, and there are even scenes where the characters sing on-camera. Benjathikoon does a cabaret number and several Iron Ladies do a karaoke version of I Will Survive. (Interesting selection there.) At its best, this is brilliant. The first song is lots of fun and had me grinning like an idiot, while there's another one later that I particularly liked too.
This film is far, far better than I'd feared. It really works, even if it was always guaranteed to be less commercially successful than its predecessor. The original was a fairy tale about the triumph of underdogs, plus a true story. This pre/se-quel brings realism. Its finale is perhaps the tiniest bit bittersweet, but in such a happy, affirming way that I approve wholeheartedly. This is a happy film with many lovely scenes, such as the one where the straight guy is encouraging all his gay teammates, or the one where their lesbian friend at university tells them about the marriage proposal she received in front of her parents. It's another education in tolerance and the strength of human nature. Oh, and it's even scenic when they're in China. The first film was a breakout international hit and this one didn't get even remotely close to that, but I was very nearly as impressed with it.
"It was like the Seven Samurai. In drag, of course."