Saturday, April 11, 2009

Review: Sassy Players (Taew Te Teen Raberd)

  • Directed by Poj Arnon
  • Starring Sudarat Butrprom, Peerawit Bunnag, Warapat Petchsatit,
  • Released in Thai cinemas on April 2, 2009
  • Rating: 1/5

For the grand finale football match in Taew Te Teen Raberd (แต๋วเตะตีนระเบิด, also Sassy Players), the gay-transvestite team wore yellow to face the powerhouse rival, wearing red.

I'm not going to say who won, because really, who cares? But the message is that yellows and reds should love one another.

But another state of emergency has been declared after Bangkok's traffic was snarled and the ASEAN summit was invaded by red-shirted anti-government protesters -- unhappy with the government seated with the help of the last batch of anti-government protesters, who wore yellow. So that message has clearly not been heeded.

But given that Sassy Players was made with the manure-bucket method, it's easy to see why that message was lost. And what's the manure-bucket method? Well, it's when a director has a big bucket of manure and the manure is flung at a wall to see what sticks.

In the case of Poj Arnon and studio Phranakorn Film, it must have been a dumptruck load, because there is so much going on in this movie, it's difficult to determine just what it is about. Lots of manure was flung, but most of it slid down and formed a fetid pool of muck.

The setting is at Catholic school, formerly all girls, but has opened to boys, and one of the teachers, Tukkie, played by the indomitable comic actress Sudarat Butrprom, wants to field a boys' football team.

The school has just enough students who were born male to fill the 16-member squad, but seven of them are transvestites. The bonus is the team won't have to have a cheerleading squad -- it has one built in.

And when the sight gags don't have to do with the outlandish outfits, absurd cosmetics or garish shrieking and mincing by the ladyboy athletes, piling on top of each other in a great heap, there's half-hearted drama involving the team's straight-acting boys. Are they gay or aren't they? That's the big question that's used like a rabbit for racing greyhounds to chase after.

The structure is the basic sports comedy of the team forming, learning how to play, going through training sequences and the team members bonding with each other in the process. The katoeys and the straight-acting players get along just fine. There is no drama there -- sleepovers at each others' houses or at the school are treated as ordinary.

The supposed center of this sports comedy is a rather petty and mean-spirited parody of Chookiat Sakveerakul's Love of Siam, which the Catholic school setting and Christmas-tree lights complement. Just have the pretty boys saunter through Siam Square going moon-eyed over some girl (or maybe each other?) and the picture is nearly complete. The capper is a scene directly lifted from Sahamongkol Film's Love of Siam, except here a dim-witted mother has an inane heart-to-heart talk with her son, asking him to choose a bra or a pair of mens' briefs -- the undergarment he selects will determine his sexuality.

Sassy Players also tries to reference the GTH romantic comedies like Seasons Change and Hormones. There will also be inevitable comparisons to The Iron Ladies, which is about a winning men's volleyball team of gay and transgender players, but Youngyooth Thongkonthun's 2000 comedy had something that Sassy Players lacks -- earnestness and a heart.

The host of young actors and actresses all seemingly look just like the young actors and actresses in teen romances by Sahamongkol and GMM Tai Hub -- so Poj Arnon and Phranakorn now have the necessary parts to assemble their own teen romantic comedies. Look out.

The problems with Sassy Players are many. For one, the two dozen or so characters are dealt with artlessly and confusingly. To help process them all, I treated the seven katoeys as one character. A group of rival teachers who want to sabotage Tukkie is another character. Former Bangkok gubernatorial candidate Leena Jangjanja is among these, but oddly the colorful politician and beauty-product queen doesn't make much of an impression. The straight (or are they gay?) boys on the football team are another character. The boys on the rival powerhouse team -- always gratuitously filmed in the locker room in their briefs -- is another. Throw in a dwarf referee, a rather confused Japanese teacher (Season Change's Yano Kazuki), lesbian schoolgirls, "Lukate" Metinee Kingpayom and a katoey housekeeper with a bizarre taste in accessories, and it's all pretty overwhelming.

The usually eye-popping cinematography by Tiwa Moeithaisong bafflingly fails here too. The lighting is flat and blindingly contrasty, though once the story settles into the football games, the images are more kinetic and tolerable.

Because I submitted myself to Sassy Players, I kept looking for something to like, and at least try to enjoy the movie.

There's the unique kicking style of the katoey players. Like the gay character in Revenge of the Nerds, whose limp-wristed javelin throw was a big winner, the queer kicks by the katoeys kept the opposing goalkeepers guessing.

And the other thing in Sassy Players that made me smile was diminutive comic actress Sudarat's ability to dominate every scene. If her sassy attitude didn't make her the star, then the progressively weirder outfits she wore ensured that all eyes would be on her no matter how strange things got.

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  1. I don't like it either. I went see this flick for some comedy from some comedians who should make me laugh (like Tookie or Leena)

    By the way, I like the performance of Pimolwan Hoomthongkam (Played as Ice's mom). She makes me laugh a lot because she looks like an ordinary mother who watched The Love of Siam and trying to be Sunee.

  2. Wise Kwai, it's great that you like most of the movies you end up watching. But in a small way, I almost kind of wish you did watch more that you would rather gave 1/5's to.

    This review reminds me a whole lot of a certain movie critic I like to turn to when I need something mean to brighten my day:


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