HRAFF Film Review – Buffalo Girls

By Maya Chanthaphavong

In rural Thailand, “Buffalo” is both a derogatory term for a farmer as well as a noun used to describe the rural “fighting spirit”. It is the fighting spirit of the two young girls Stam Sor Con Lek (Stam) and Pet Chor Chanachai (Pet) that Todd Kellstein’s Buffalo Girls focuses on, as they train and fight for the national Muay Thai title.

Stam and Pet are eight-year-old girls from rural Thailand who compete professionally in Muay Thai tournaments – the prize money on offer is equivalent to more than the yearly rural wage. Buffalo Girls tells us that there are over 30,000 Muay Thai boxers in Thailand, and once the images of the two girls fighting are shown, this statistic becomes real and confronting. It is quickly apparent that Muay Thai is an industry that provides a lifeline to all involved – from the rural farmers, to the bookies and, finally, to the fighters and their families.

Buffalo Girls is the story of Stam and Pet’s quest to become national champions. It provides a glimpse into the world of child boxing, with its heavy emotional and physical toll.

Stam comes from Muay Thai elite. Her father is a former Muay Thai champion who encourages his daughter to compete. His family, as entourage, are actively involved in her training and her fighting. Pet’s family, on the other hand, are not Muay Thai fighters. However, they support her decision to participate in boxing despite her serious health concerns. They rely on external coaches as well as Pet’s own solitary training to ensure she is capable of entering the ring. Buffalo Girls is the story of Stam and Pet’s quest to become national champions. It provides a glimpse into the world of child boxing, with its heavy emotional and physical toll.

Given the delicate subject matter it would be easy for one to be quick to form an opinion about the exploitation of the children and the injustice of them having to support their families at the tender age of eight. Yet Kellstein has managed to sincerely capture the strong sense of filial duty that pervades much of rural Thailand in showing the strong commitment that these two girls have to their parents, and their willingness to sacrifice a part of their childhood to ensure economic and social stability. It becomes even more poignant once the viewer realises that one of the girls is quite literally left to her own devices and carries the full weight of her family’s survival on her shoulders.

Buffalo Girls depicts a journey in which ultimately there is only one winner.

Buffalo Girls depicts a journey in which ultimately there is only one winner. The loss of the championship title impacts greatly upon one of the girls – perhaps forever altering the familial unit. If there were criticism to be made, it would concern the fact that the viewer is left pondering the fate of one of the girls. Kellstein wanted to ensure that Buffalo Girls could be considered as a compelling, socially conscious story. He has certainly done so. It is well worth watching.

Buffalo Girls is screening on Monday 21 May 2012 at 6:30pm, at Melbourne’s ACMI Cinemas. To purchase tickets, click here.

The film is also showing:

On Tuesday 29 May 2012 at 7pm, at Sydney’s Chauvel Cinema. To purchase tickets click here.

On Wednesday 6 June 2012 at 7pm, at Brisbane’s Tribal Cinema. To purchase tickets click here.

On Friday 15 June 2012 at 7pm, at Perth’s Luna Cinema Paradiso. To purchase tickets, click here.

For more on our coverage of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, click here.

To visit the HRAFF website, click here.

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