Film Review: Buffalo GirlsThis relatively even-handed look at the Thai young-girl boxing craze likely will incite some heated opposition.
It would appear that not every eight-year-old girl is all about Barbies and purple unicorns. For Stam and Pet, the two young Thai subjects in the provocative documentary Buffalo Girls, recreation means facing off against each other in a boxing ring in pursuit of winning the national Muay Thai championship and a life-changing cash prize.
They’re among the nation’s estimated 30,000 child boxers competing in a centuries-old sport that recently has become trendy for wagering on young female combatants who aren’t required to wear protective headgear and whose tender limbs are often subject to broken bones.
But, as first-time long-form director Todd Kellstein discovers, a practice that would understandably come across as disturbingly exploitative from a Western POV grows more complicated when taken in the harsh socioeconomic context of rural Thai life. Destined to provoke discussion, the low-key production isn’t as sensational as its subject matter, but it nevertheless could make a splash.
Outside of the ring, Stam and Pet appear to be happy, well-adjusted little girls, despite their impoverished surroundings. When asked why they’re drawn to Muay Thai kickboxing, they each instantly speak of the money that would help their respective families.
Working out for long hours with professional trainers, their regimen is rigorous, even though Pet, born with a heart defect, bears a prominent scar on her chest from the surgery she had several years earlier. Her proud parents, who, like other families, place bets on their daughter’s bouts, contend that boxing has made her healthier.
Of course, their final, big-ticket matchup will yield one winner and one loser, and no matter which side of the equation Stam and Pet end up on, the pressures and emotional stakes remain awfully high where little girls are concerned, whatever their cultural circumstances.
—The Hollywood Reporter