If you’re at Asiatique, Bangkok’s newest tourist trap, the dozen or so almost naked guys on stage for your viewing pleasure may seem like pretty much any night spent on Soi Twilight, but those boys are not there to provide you with a happy ending. If you’re at Asiatique, Bangkok’s newest tourist trap, when fists begin to fly and some poor sucker ends up in a bloody heap, it may not be that you just witnessed the latest expat going mano y mano with the ferris wheel ride operator over the attraction’s dual price structure either. And if you’re at Asiatique, Bangkok’s newest tourist trap, and see Thailand totally trounce Burma again and again, you are either my friend Noom daydreaming about historical events that never were, or you just dropped 1,500 baht to take in the spectacular known as Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives, aka Asiatique’s newest tourist trap within a tourist trap.
Not that Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives isn’t spectacular. It’s just that it has as much to do with muay thai as the Calypso Cabaret has to do with the daily life of Thailand’s transgendered community. Which may be understandable. Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives (MTLLL from here on in cuz I’m not typing out that entire name again) is created and directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham, who directed the ladyboy turned muay thai champion biopic Beautiful Boxer. And one of MTLLL’s stars is ‘Art’ Attaporn, who portrayed that ladyboy turned muay thai champion in Ekacha’s film. Throw in the Passion Fighter act, supposedly a modern day look at how muay thai is used on the streets in which the hero defeats a series of bad guys, one of whom seems just as intent on seducing him as fighting him, and . . . huh, maybe there is a good reason to go see MTLLL after all.
Of course if you’re actually interested in muay thai, you’ll do better going to see a real muay thai fight. There’s a free card every Wednesday night in front of MBK, so you can save yourself 1,500 baht while you’re at it. On the other hand, if you’re interested in seeing a muay thai fight and the signboard out in front of the The Pink Panther keeps catching your eye, you’ll probably do better heading over to Asiatique where Broadway meets muay thai at MTLLL’s extravaganza. And even if you lose the battle with the ‘we took your picture when you arrived now give us 240 baht for a copy’ vendor at MTLLL, it will probably still cost you less than what your check bin would add up to at Pink Panther. But then that’s only if you prefer a bit of break dancing with your martial arts.
So granted, MTLLL could improve by a costume malfunction or two, but it is not intended as an alternative to heading out to the stadium to spend an evening watching real muay thai fighters go at it; ‘the legend lives’ part of the show’s title is the give away. MTLLL is an encapsulated look at the 300 year history of the sport, with ‘history’ meaning tall tales told of legendary muay thai champions. If you are familiar with those stories, it’ll seem like old home week. If not, the tales told are more akin to Putin claiming he’s only interested in liberating Ukraine. But then to the victors goes the spoils, the winners get to dictate history, and alls well that ends well, even if Burma did beat Thailand 4 to 0. But then don’t take my critique of the show too seriously; I still haven’t figured out if the T in muay thai should always be capitalized or not and if so what you are supposed to do with the M (but I’m going with not ‘cuz otherwise that requires yet another stroke of the keyboard).
MTLLL’s opening number is The Prisoner with Eight Limbs, which may sound like a homage to the Saw movie franchise, but is actually a reference to the martial art known as the Art of Eight Limbs (that’d be two feet, two knees, two hands, and two elbows ‘cuz modern day muay thai rules prohibit the fighters striking blows to their opponent’s two balls) and the popular story of Nai Kanomthom, who back in the late 1700s was captured by the Burmese when they were busy capturing the entire northern section of Thailand. Boo Burma! To celebrate his country making Thailand its bitch, Lord Mangra, the Burmese King, decided to hold a big festival during which his top fighters would do battle with Thailand’s top fighters, who were now known as Lord Mangra’s top slaves.
Unfortunately for the Burmese, Nai Kanomthom trounced his first opponent using the Art of Eight Limbs, the loser of which whined that Nai cheated by using black magic. Nai said no, that was just a black eye and then went on to beat the shit out of another ten Burmese. Yeah Thailand! Lord Mangra was so not impressed with his fighters that he declared Nai Kanomthom the winner, granted him his freedom, and awarded him several Burmese women to be his wives and concubines. Boo Breeders! Nai Kanomthom returned to what was left of Thailand as a hero, and lived out his life teaching muay thai when he wasn’t busy battling between the sheets with his slew of wives and concubines. And that’s why today the Thai government is cracking down on illegal Burmese immigrants. Ooops. Wrong post. My bad.
Round two tells the legend of King Sri Saan Petch, aka “The Tiger King,” who was infamous for disguising himself in a tiger mask and competing in muay thai tournaments. The mask was not because he was known as The Tiger King, but because if his opponents knew he was the king they would not have fought him, probably because king’s tended to behead people who pissed them off back in those days. Although in MTLLL’s version it’s because the Thai people loved their king and didn’t want to see him lose. Or see Burma win again. In any case, the role of the king is played by ‘Art’ Attaporn of Beautiful Boxer fame, and he almost makes as good of a king playing the role of a muay thai fighter as he did playing a ladyboy. But then if you’ve ever pissed off a ladyboy hooker on Sukhumvit you probably already know how talented they are at using their fists, so maybe that’s just type-casting.
There’s another historical act, and then the show moves into modern times and the break dancers take over ‘cuz that’s what muay thai is really all about. The spectacular ends with a section on Thai heritage and a group performance of the wai kru, the weird dance/kneeling ritual that comes at the beginning of muay thai fights and MTLLL’s take is just as exciting as the real version. But at least the seats at MTLLL’s venue are nicely padded and quite comfy so you won’t get a crick in your neck from that short, restful nap you just took.
Admittedly the feats of athleticism featured in the show really are quite extraordinary, even if few are anything you’d ever see used inside of a real muay thai ring. And unlike in a real muay thai fight there is no blood (other than that spilt by those who paid the VIP seating price that costs 300 baht more than a regular ticket only to discover all that means is you get a ‘free’ box of popcorn and a soda) so those who abhor blood and violence will thoroughly enjoy MTLLL. As will those who visited Asiatique for the thrill of riding a ferris wheel. Ditto for every tuk tuk driver, taxi driver, and concierge in town who will try to sell you a ticket to MTLLL, because at 1,200 to 1,500 a pop there’s a lot of filthy lucre to go around.
Which is why it’s so difficult to escape all the hype of MTLLL as a tourist these days. But most manage to at least escape buying a ticket; packed in like sardines isn’t exactly the phrase you’d use to describe the audience. Some must have just farted is. And MTLLL isn’t fairing that much better on TripAdvisor, review are sparse. And even sparser when you realize Sadie K from Islamabad reviewed an actual muay thai fight she attended and not MTLLL, making her one of the few people in the world who would actually confuse the two. Everyone else said it was just like going to a movie. That MTLLL is a Hollywood version of the ancient fighting sport hits it pretty much squarely on the nose.
Noom, who is both a big fan of the Thai version of history and muay thai gave the show a big thumbs up for its frequent reference to Burma sucking and a big, “Not Real!” to most of its muay thai. After the show, he made sure to pose for a photo with ever one of the women from the show, but I think that had more to do with breasts than it did with his approval of the show.
Muay Thai Live: The Legend Lives is performed nightly, except for Sundays at 8:00 pm at The Stage at Asiatique. Tickets can be bought on arrival from the box office outside the theatre or in advance tickets online from Thai Ticket Master. Your best bet for getting there is taking the BTS to Saphan Taksin station and then the shuttle boat to Asiatique. The Stage theater is located at Warehouse 3 within the entertainment complex.
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