Title: Buffalo Girls
Director: Todd Kellstein
Starring: Stam Sor Con Lek, Pet Chor Chanachai and Jid
Wary. Unsure. Transfixed. Enveloped. Guilty. Sad. Enlightened.
These are the words that described my feelings before, during and after the process of watching Todd Kellstein’s documentary, Buffalo Girls. Even reading the premise “puts you on the back foot” as it were. It tells the story of how two eight-year-old girls compete in underground Thai boxing, in order to support their respective families.
Straight away, I found myself thinking that I was very curious, but not sure that I would like what I saw, or even if I should be watching it. I decided to go for it and hit the play button. In doing so, I found myself drawn into something which was astonishing and hugely thought-provoking, in both good and bad ways.
The two girls involved are Pet and Stam, both eight-year-old children. Children who fight other girls in an arena, encouraged by their families and trainers to knee, punch and grab their way through four rounds to become the victor and a whole lot richer in doing so. They are trained like seasoned fighters and chastised by their corners if they are not meeting the standards expected of them. “Surely they’re not happy doing this?” I thought, “Why are they doing this?” They say, with beaming smiles, that it is “For the money,” so that they can support and provide for their families and of course, themselves. Throughout this piece of film, all of the cast that are interviewed seem genuine in their answers; both the bookmaker and the referees do cite, on several occasions, that the health of the children is very important. This is reassuring to the viewer and alleviates some of the predetermined feeling of child exploitation that you WILL have had before you watched it.
As the piece progresses, so did my interest in the outcome of this event. I found myself wanting to see how the fights evolved, not necessarily how or why they were putting themselves through this spectacle. I became more engaged by the training regimes they were taking part in, and what began to appear as genuine feelings and comments from the girls regarding their activities. Indeed, I did wonder if they had almost been brainwashed by their parents into doing this. However, then I asked myself: “Perhaps they have no choice, this is big money and if my family were in poverty and this was an accepted path of the society of which I am part, would I do the same?”
Eventually, Stam and Pet meet in a final showdown. The result shows just how important it is to be the victor and the joy it brings. The short period immediately after the fight took me up to the top of the wave with the victor and showed me that it was worth it. However, it also brought me back down into a well of sadness as I saw what it meant for the loser.
Unlike a lot of documentaries I have seen, there is no commentary from the filmmaker, which is a good thing. There is no influence other than that of the editing, which to me appears unbiased. The content is good enough for it to block out any worthwhile analysis of the filmmaking techniques and skills used. After inviting you to watch and tempt your curiosity, it makes it worthwhile and afterwards you will ask yourself questions about society and who is right to question another’s way of life.
Eye-opening and engaging, I would ask that you do not judge this film purely by its summary. Rather, you should abandon any apprehension and just watch it, letting it tell its thought-provoking tale.
*Written by JP Wooding
Filed Under: Reviews