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Buakaw Banchamek Makes His Mark On The Big Screen

Bangkok, Sat Jan 28 2017
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While most athletes are content with their achievements in their given field, some have tried to bask in the bright lights of showbiz and Buakaw Banchamek is the latest to be added to the list. In his fighting career, spanning over a decade, he has collected several championship belts. Now the acclaimed welterweight Muay Thai fighter is seeking to make his mark on the big screen.

Released on Thursday, Thongdee Fun Khaw is an historical action drama depicting the life of a local street fighter called Thongdee. He later becomes a respected warrior who fights alongside Taksin the Great (the King of Thonburi) until one of his swords is broken. He is thus given the noble title of Phraya Pichai Dab Hak (Phraya Pichai of the broken sword). The film will star Buakaw, one of the most internationally celebrated muay Thai fighters, in the leading role.

As thrilling as this job offer may sound to many, Buakaw said, in an interview with the Bangkok Post this week, that he initially turned it down due to logistical complications. He thought it would be difficult for a professional boxer to juggle between training and shooting a film. The commute between the film sets and boxing camp would have been too much, he said. Buakaw explained that it wasn't simple for him to agree to a long-term film project while his career requires hundreds of hours sparring in the gym. “I tried to avoid these kind of activities as much as possible as training has always been my priority” Buakaw said. “I didn't feel like working on anything else besides boxing because, to be honest, the training regime was tiring enough. To go into fights requires a huge amount of physical and disciplinary demand, so my first thought about the film was like, man, I just wanted to train and work out.” However, the biopic would likely not have happened had the director, Bin Banluerit, not insisted, on more than four occasions, that Buakaw assume this role. “I wondered .. There are so many more actors out there. Why me?” So I asked Bin and he simply said it's got to be me.

Given the script and stories behind both the real-life and on-screen Thongdees, it is quite obvious that the role was more or less tailor-made for Buakaw. Buakaw reflected on his portrayal of the character. “One thing for sure was I didn't have problems with the fight scenes” he said jokingly. “On a serious note, though, the role of Thongdee does share parallels with my life in terms of his spirit to overcome obstacles to achieve goals and fight for independence.”

Despite his previous cameos on the silver screen, including in Yamada: the Samurai of Ayothaya and Khun Nai Ho, Buakaw said none quite compared to the role of Thongdee. “The fact that this is a historical drama is intriguing. I've never done anything like this before. Not to mention that this is the first time for me to play a lead character, and that it is someone who was a real prominent figure in our history and who I absolutely respect. I feel honoured to be able to portray the role of Thongdee, and don't regret the decision to take on this role at all.”

“Still, I had my reasons for being hesitant. I didn't want to jump into any project without considering it thoroughly. I also believe that what is meant to be mine will not escape me anyway.” When asked if he believes in destiny, Buakaw said: “Yes, I believe in destiny, but more so in creating one for myself.”

Spending most of his time with punching bags and boxing partners, Buakaw revealed that he was fascinated with the scale of the movie production and how everyone on the film set was so dedicated to their work. And that's what made Buakaw want to push himself further to exceed his limits and improve his acting. Known as a fighter rather than a performer, the Muay Thai star admitted that, for him, throwing a punch is probably easier than delivering a line. “I had to focus on practising my pronunciation, facial expressions and camera angles. The staff were very helpful, but I tried my best not to be a burden to anyone.”

Buakaw doesn't hide the fact that he was looking forward to acting in some romantic scenes with his co-star Sornsin “Manao” Maneewan. When asked if he felt awkward while performing in such scenes, Buakaw brushed it off cheekily, replying, “Not at all. In fact, I was quite angry when the director declared he would cut off the cheek-kissing scene. Man, I was looking forward to it. That was frustrating!” Buakaw finds acting similar to boxing in a way. “Whether I'm competing or acting in front of the camera, there is a sense of alacrity that I get from these activities - something that assures me that I can do it.”

To our surprise, Buakaw confidently gives himself a score of 11 out of 10 for his first on-screen acting attempt. “Because I was confident in myself and really saw my potential in acting” he explains. “It's not bragging if you can back it up. The results turned out well - even beyond my expectations actually. I've come out of my comfort zone and reached another milestone by doing something I've never done before.”

As much as Buakaw displayed a playful spirit on set and even during our interview, his training regime is something that involves zero joking around. After years of extolling blood and sweat in fights both at home in Thailand and abroad, Buakaw, born Sombat Banchamek, is now a boxer and an instructor at Banchamek Gym. It was both founded by and named after the Muay Thai fighter himself. Buakaw resumed training at this newly built gym after he parted ways with former boxing camp Por Pramuk in 2012 due to what he perceived as mistreatment.

Buakaw addressed the principle he's sought to implement in his own gym environment. “When it's time to be tough, I need to be tough. Order is order. If someone in the gym breaks a rule, a certain punishment must be executed. Boxing camps are like military camps in a way.” The Muay Thai master practises a gruelling regime in order to maintain his top form. “No matter how good or talented you are, if you lack discipline, everything is pointless. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. It is the core principle of my career, along with responsibility and compliance. These are the principles that eventually lead to success. If you are not disciplined, even if you're a really great fighter, I can guarantee your run will last only a few fights. There were instances where I almost set myself loose. There were times when I just wanted to hang out and have fun just like most people do. But as the saying goes, you reap what you sow and I didn't want to ruin myself. I think self-control is what keeps me going forward and leads me down this new path of life. I always get myself back on track.”

He also weighed in on his decision to leave his old gym, Por Pramuk, and start anew with his own establishment. “I believe we all need to make a leap at some point. I wanted to get out and do something that contributes to society more. If I had stayed in the same place, there would have always been a certain level of restriction, and I would never have been able to demonstrate my skills and encouragement as a teacher to help others like I do today.”

When Buakaw isn't battling it out in the ring, you may be able to catch him at the football stadium. He is a member of the RBAC Football Club and plays in the Regional League Division 2 as a forward. And as if that's not enough to fill out his masculinity formula, whenever he has free time, Buakaw hops on his Ducati and heads out for a ride, especially at night-time.

“Don't be surprised if you find me somewhere in the middle of the road at night. There was this funny episode that happened once when I was riding my bike. My helmet has my name inscribed on it, and apparently someone took my picture and posted it on the internet with the caption 'Trust me. Don't cut in front of this guy.' And it's been the joke among my circle of biker friends ever since.”

Although Buakaw doesn't see his retirement coming any time soon, the busy Muay Thai fighter has been recently trying his hand at new hobbies to broaden his horizons. Apart from being a professional boxer, he serves in the military, teaches boxing at his gym, runs a restaurant and takes care of his charitable rice business Banchamek Rice. “Muay Thai will always be my first choice as long as I have the stamina and motivation to do it he said. But who knows, one day my main routine may turn out to be just taking a nap on a hammock and feeding my livestock. For now, I just want to do anything I feel like I want to do - anything that I can do in my own way, and not only in the field of sports, but also in the entertainment industry. If the right opportunity comes at the right time, why not?”

Buakaw hopes that the first major movie in his acting career will pack a good punch. “I'm looking forward to hearing feedback from everyone and seeing if there's the possibility that I can go professional in this field in the future.”

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