Cine Outsider header
front page    disc reviews    film reviews    articles    interviews  
Hot boxing
A region 2 DVD review of RING GIRLS by Slarek
 

If you're a devotee of martial arts then you'll know all about Muay Thai, the Thai fighting style that goes beyond fists and feet and employs knees and elbows as offensive weapons. Mind you, even if your involvement with martial arts extends only to its incorporation into action cinema you'll also know about Muay Thai, it being the fighting style of the genre's newest star, Tony Jaa.

I have no doubt that the release of Muay Thai themed Ring Girls has been timed to coincide with and cash in on the release of Jaa's Warrior King, the hotly anticipated follow-up to the spectacular Ong Bak. I can't think of any other good reason for putting it out, at least onto the UK market. Shot on video and released straight to DVD, it's the sort of American production that is clearly targeted at an insecure portion of the domestic audience who will only watch a foreign sport if it is being done by Americans, and even then only if they WIN.

We are informed up front that the story – five female Muay Thai practitioners from Las Vegas, who have been trained by a Thai ex-patriot known as Master Toddy, fly to Thailand to take part in a Muay Thai competition – is 'based on true events', but it's clearly a little more than that, the combination of real footage and staged scenes plainly labeling the film as drama-documentary. The in-ring fights certainly look for real and the competition the girls take part in has obviously not been restaged for the camera, but a straight documentary this is not.

The intention was clearly to retrospectively recreate the road to inevitable victory (I'll come back to that) by re-staging the training scenes and pep talks that led up to the competition and to the fights themselves. These are not recreated with actors but the real Master Toddy and his fighting ladies, which may well seem like a safe road to authenticity but actually proves a deadly decision. On-screen charisma and natural acting ability are in seriously short supply, and while the training sequences feel convincing enough, the pauses between look exactly what they are, non-actors asked to read lines at each other without any real direction. At it's lowest points, this is almost painful to watch and listen to.

But it gets worse. Some bright spark decided to personalise the experience by having the whole thing narrated as a recollection of events by one of the girls, Gina. It apparently took three people to write her script, but after just five minutes of listening to it I deperately wanted to switch off. Wandering merrily from cliché to cliché, this narration is annoying, cheesy, self-congratulatory and just occasionally silly enough to be funny. As the tiresomely generic urban dance soundtrack pumps endlessly in the background and Gina observes how tough and good-looking they all are and rattles on repeatedly about being 'winners', the whole enterprise takes on the air of an overlong and particularly irritating Nike commercial.

Any documentary centered on a person or group of people needs to connect us to them on more than a superficial level, and that simply doesn't happen here. This is in part because there is never any real attempt to get beyond the image of the girls as hard-fighting babes – we watch them train and fight, but we never get to know them as people. This is Playboy with aggression – look, admire, perhaps even desire (a quick browse of some on-line reaction suggests that the film has connected with a small audience who just want the girls to beat them up and sit on their face), but don't think for a second you'll get to know these women.

What really nobbles the film, though, is the complete lack of drama. You know, absolutely know, that from the moment Gina tells us that "Master Toddy was making the biggest bet of his life, thinking that he could train five American girls to beat five Thai girls at their own sport, on their own soil," the rest is a foregone conclusion. Hell, if the girls hadn't won, and won big time, this particular film would not even have been made.

So what are we left with? Well, plenty of footage of real Muay Thai ring fights, and some may find that a refreshing and realistic change from the careful choreography of martial arts cinema. And yet even here realism is undermined by exaggerating the sound of every punch, kick and elbow wallop (or in many cases dubbed with kung-fu contact sound effects) to more closely align the fights with the very genre films this release appears to be riding the coat-tails of.

sound and vision

Shot on high-band video, the transfer here is 1.78:1 anamorphic and looks very good. Obviously it looks like video rather than film, but that's appropriate to the subject matter, and the colour, contrast and detail are all very impressive.

A Dolby 2.0 stereo mix for the sound, but a clean, clear and full rounded one. Whatever I might think of the film, it looks and sounds fine.

extra features

My, it's been a while since I saw a DVD box claim that 'Interactive Menus' and 'Chapter Selection' were special features. What you will find are trailers for Feed (1:19), Dongmakgol (1:33) and Snoop Dogg's Buckwild Bus Tour (1:10).

summary

I'll keep this short. I personally found Ring Girls impossible to engage with and relentlessly annoying. Boxing fans and babe watchers may disagree, but I'd still make real sure before you buy, and those looking for a decent sport-based documentary would be advised to move along the shelf and pick up Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro's Murderball. Like this film that also had two directors but just see what they did with their subject matter and participants.

Ring Girls

USA 2005
81 mins
directors
Jennifer Farrar
Thomas Weber

DVD details
region 2
video
178:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby stereo 2.0
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
Trailers
distributor
Showbox
release date
2 October 2006
review posted
5 October 2006

See all of Slarek's reviews