CM . . . . Volume XX Number 38 . . . . May 30, 2014
Everyone loves the underdog story, especially in sports movies; the likeable character up against impossible odds who fights his or her best to achieve victory is a classic structure. Even when the character loses after giving a valiant effort, viewers' hearts are warmed, and they see value in the character's development and grit.
In Little Tiger's Pride, the workings are there to have the same effect. Little Tiger is a boxer who stands out from the others of his age class. He has the potential to win a boxing title and thereby provide for his family and himself. He is a reluctant fighter, but, urged on by those handling him, he is matched against older, stronger boxers, and he gives his best.
Little Tiger's Pride should be an inspiring film, but sadly that is not its intent. Little Tiger is 12-years-old and has been boxing since he was eight. The son of migrant Burmese workers, living in Mae Sot, Thailand, in a refugee camp, he is one of "50,000 Burmese children". Little Tiger fights for one of the many boxing camps that pit children against children in boxing matches.
Thailand and Burma have a history of combat sports that is legendary. Betting on cocks, bulls or children is all the same. Pride and money go to the victorious. Little Tiger has potential, and so he is being trained for the fights at the annual Water Festival. The boxing camp owner and the trainers all stand to make big money if Little Tiger is victorious. He has already fought 21 bouts.
Each month, "100 Burmese children are sold. Many are enslaved on fishing boats and others go to boxing camps." Early in the film, Little Tiger states, "If we lose, we are punished." So, clearly, this is not going to be anything like Rocky. His trainer, a policeman by day, admits, "We train kids to box if they show potential and do not deport them." He likes training the Burmese children because "They make do with so little." The trainers and camp owners are immune to regular visa requirements for transporting their boxers around the country.
Little Tiger admits, "I train harder than the other boxers because I'm afraid of the trainer. He shoots at us when he gets drunk." Little Tiger says, "I give my winnings to my mother, and she buys rice and curry. She wants me to succeed." Boxing is the Thai national sport and involves 30,000 Thai children. For the Burmese children, however, "Boxing is not a sport, but a means to survival."
Little Tiger's older brother fought in order to get money for school. He tells how Little Tiger liked the fact that boxing earned money and wanted to get some too. The older brother, no longer a boxer, is concerned for Little Tiger: "He doesn't have the right attitude. The equipment is inadequate, the expectation to perform and the daily blows to the head - some of the boys are scarred for life." The brother weeps as he talks about Little Tiger.
Should Little Tiger be victorious at the Water Festival, he could win as much as what a worker would make in five days. Half the money "would go to his family and half to his trainer."
Although bare knuckle fighting was banned in 1999, during the Water Festival "Thai authorities tolerate it." Little Tiger admits to his trainer that he does not want to fight, but the trainer tells him that he'd be famous and "had to keep going. He scared me. I had to keep at it and to make it last five rounds."
When the boxers are introduced, Little Tiger is described as "a little mouse at 32 kilos." He is up against a larger boy and loses. What happens after is not presented. He is one of many such children, and so, while sad, Little Tiger's story is not unique.
Child exploitation in any form is detestable and yet in many places is encouraged. While the only legal betting in Thailand is the state sponsored lottery, there is big money in betting on all fights -- cock, bull, children -- as they are not seen as different. Interspersed with the training sessions, the children are shown playing with water pistols and running around like the children they should be allowed to be.
Little Tiger's Pride does not offer any suggestions for change or present any information regarding groups which may be acting on behalf of the children or show any hope that this activity will ever change. The boxing camp owner admits that things are different now, but he clearly was banking on a win. Other than Little Tiger's brother, viewers do not get to know the family or learn what has happened to Little Tiger since the fight. Viewers have simply been given a brief glimpse at the life of a child at a moment in time. The fact that he is one of so many children involved in boxing makes the story that much more tragic.
This is a heartbreaking film and has great potential for any course dealing in human rights or child labour. Certainly, it would have value in Sociology, Family Studies, Geography, Social Justice, Physical Education or Ethics classes. With a running time of just 25 minutes, it could easily be shown in a class with time for discussion.
Frank Loreto is newly retired from his position as the teacher-librarian of St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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