Film Review

The Iron Ladies review: making LGBTQ+ cinematic history

3 min readOct 31, 2021
Screenshot trailer The Iron Ladies

Based on a true story from 1996, the award-winning Thai comedy The Iron Ladies follows a volleyball team composed mainly of gays and kathoey (transgender person) that prepares for the Thai national championship.

The 2001 debut film of Youngyooth Thongkonthun explores the struggles that are still present in the Thai LGBTQ+ community through comedy, despite the international image of Thailand as an open country for gay and transgender persons.

For Thailand, The Iron Ladies marked a milestone in LGBTQ+ representation in media, echoing throughout the recognition of international film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival and several others.

Screenshot trailer The Iron Ladies: doing what they are the best at.

Let the game begin

Set in 1996, two gay amateur volleyball players, Chai (Jesdaporn Pholdee) and Mon (Sahaphap Tor) seek to participate in a championship despite being discriminated against. Thanks to the help of Coach Bee (Shiriohana Hongsopon), also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, they assemble a volleyball team.

Most of them are gays and kathoey, except one cishet male (cisgender and heterosexual) who struggles to accept them in the team. All of them must find their inner strengths to face these challenges and participate in the national championship.

Screenshot trailer The Iron Ladies: the cheery moments.

Owning the stereotype through comedy

Through humour, Thongkonthun touches on sensitive topics that otherwise would have been difficult to encompass during the filming period in the 2000s — where T.A.T.U.’s “All the Things She Said” caused people to become agitated in 2002 and an increase in male homosexuality representation started to appear on television in the West (think of Will & Grace).

Based on stereotypical gay portrayals (flamboyant, feminine, joyful, fearless), the film uses cliches that were common in the 2000s — and are still prevalent today.

In Thailand, homosexual and transgender portrayals in media resorted to the old-fashioned comic relief friend or villain, but The Iron Ladies reveals a depth to these generally superficial characters. As the team deals with various challenges, each team member depicts through their own story an issue of society that the LGBTQ+ community deals with but still put in the box of the cheerful gay person.

The cast does not fail to make their characters relatable and real within their banal limited depiction as they imitate the tropes that surrounded the representation of LGBTQ+ people back in the early 2000s.

The film takes the stereotypes, gives them depth, and owns them.

Mentioned as silly or quick remarks, the film’s dialogue cleverly addresses the struggles and hurtful comments that prevail in society towards LGBTQ+ people. Through absurd but witty scenes, the characters reflect and talk about love interests, being loved as a transgender person, buying items at a market, making friends, participating in sports, and being discriminated against. All cocooned with a comedy vale and extravagant shots with pumping electro music.

Exaggerated angels and sounds reminisce the 2000s filming MTV-style and create quite a ride to watch for the contemporary eye, which adds to the comedic effect.

The Iron Ladies DVD cover.


Overall, The Iron Ladies highlights the situation of gay and transgender persons in Thailand, bringing food for thought to (inter)national audiences on the representation and conduct toward the LGBTQ+ community.

However, the film is predictable and over-the-top cliché in all senses. Does it deserve our attention? Absolutely yes, as it’s a piece of history and contextualizing it will give you another view of the stereotyped image of Thailand. Nevertheless, be aware of an abundance of hyper-screams.

First published in Surrounded by Films