STUDIO: Cinema Epoch
RUNNING TIME: 75 Minutes
• Production Credits
It’s a death-defyin’, snake suckin’, finger amputatin’, antidote-not-havin’, thrill-a-minute depression fest!
Off camera, the filmmakers played rock, paper, scissors to determine who would be the one to suck out the venom if the snake decided to bite.
Tom Tavee, Serum Man, Dragon 900,000, Ekarat
Documentary Filmmaker Tom Tavee travels to the tiny Thai village of Ban Kok Sa-Nga to explore a very unique sport: King Cobra Boxing. To attract tourists, the "boxers" kiss, suck, pat, tickle, aggravate, taunt, and confuse huge, venomous cobras. Tavee follows several Cobra Boxing champs, including Dragon 900,000 and Serum Man, as they prepare for the yearly water festival, which draws thousands of tourists to the countryside for these wild, unpredictable, flamboyant, and sometimes deadly snake boxing shows. If you’ve ever wanted to see a seventy-year-old man shove a cobra down his trousers, you’re in for a treat!
"I, for one, can’t stand the snake boxing. I hate snakes. I’ve spend thousands snakeproofing my yard- I’ve installed twelve motion sensing snake alarms, four anti-snake turrets, timed-release de-snaking gas emmiters, and a roving attack squad of snake-hungry mongooses. I trained the mongooses myself. This, my friends, is a SNAKE-FREE zone.
Poor Snakes. After the incident with the apple, they’ve had a really rough few thousand years. Hollywood hasn’t helped their plight, as they’re usually cast as monsters in film, from the giant snake in Conan the Barbarian to the venomous snakes in Raiders of the Lost Ark to the Voight-munching snakes in Anaconda. Tom Tavee and company set forth to document a culture with a slightly more harmonious relationship with these slithering critters in Kiss My Snake, which gives us a mostly interesting, exciting, and often sobering look at rural Thai culture through the experiences of these uniquely talented snake boxers.
First, let’s explain what happens during your average snake boxing match. It begins with a children’s show, as the village youths perform dances, fights, and other activities with non-venomous snakes. Nothing warms up a crowd like a toddler fighting a python! After the kids toss some snakes around, the ring announcer brings the professional boxers to the stage for the main event. Actually, boxers is a pretty inaccurate word for what these guys do. There’s a ring, and there are snakes, but I’m not sure there are any other rules to this sport other than "don’t die." Basically, the boxer pulls a huge cobra on stage and attempts to perform various "acts" on it without getting injured. Some boxers specialize in the snake kiss, others specialize in the snake suck. Some prefer to weave and dodge around the snake on all fours, while others pat and prod the snake to enrage it for the crowd. These snakes aren’t de-fanged or de-venomized, either- they’re fully loaded, and the boxers have the scars and amputated appendages to prove it. In Ban Kok Sa-Nga, these snake boxing events have become legendary, thanks to the drama and spectacle created by these brave, clearly desperate villagers.
In many Cobra circles, Charles was considered the George Burns of snakes.
What’s most surprising is that Snake Boxing isn’t an ancient tradition or some kind of spiritual right of passage. It began only a few decades ago as a way for a rural herb salesman to boost sales, and it took on a whole life of its own, even spawning a "King Cobra Club" to train new boxers for the fights. Kids as young as thirteen are trained to handle and perform with the cobras, and we’re given the impression that they don’t have much of a choice in the matter. The village is obviously impoverished- the snake boxing tournaments are a dangerous, profitable lifeline for the whole community, and we’re meant to be conflicted over whether they’re a good or bad thing for any of them. It’s sad to watch some of the aging boxers get bit by their snakes and suffer potentially lethal reactions, but it’s no doubt that the crowds they draw to the village provide a big boost to the local economy. What makes it even worse for the bitten boxers is community’s almost religious respect for herbs and natural medicines. There isn’t any antivenin in Ban Kok Sa-Nga; however, there’s plenty of Wan Ngu, which is a locally grown root with [alleged] venom-neutralizing effects. Local doctors insist that this root has no real medicinal value, but the snake boxers continue to rely on it, as well as upon healing prayers and other types of spiritual magic.
Kiss My Snake‘s characters are colorful, interesting, and sometimes quite funny. We follow Serum Man as he invents new, dangerous, and strangely erotic ways to taunt the cobras. We watch the surprisingly young Ekarat fight a cobra (he’s only 11) as he’s egged on by his domineering, sliver-tongued Dad, who’s also a ring announcer. We listen to the president of the King Cobra Club talk about the tragic cobra-related deaths of old friends, which undoubtedly had (and continue to have) a devastating impact on the community. Our "hero" boxer, however, is Dragon 900,000 (I’m assuming that’s his stage name), an aging, veteran snake boxer who’s having a hard time catching a break at the annual water festival. He’s bitten on the hand during the first day of the festival after only a few minutes of boxing. After lots of water and a mouthful of Wan Ngu, he’s back on stage, but it’s very clear that he’s still suffering from the bite. He survives the night, but gets severely bitten the very next day, which earns him a dramatic 45-minute life-or-death ride to a Bangkok hospital. It’s a dramatic series of events, and it really underscores how desperate these boxers’ living situations really are. Sure, we’re given interviews where the boxers tell us how much they love the snakes and how much they love snake boxing, but I can’t help but feel horrible for the older boxers. They’re too slow to avoid a cobra bite, but probably aren’t equipped to do anything more profitable than snake boxing. Since the ring announcers erupt with orgiastic cries of "OH MY GOD, HE’S BEEN BITTEN!!! HE’S BEEN BITTEN!!" when one of the cobras "wins a match", it’s easy to imagine how much bigger the crowds get after a boxer gets bitten, and how it might even be considered desirable to pair an overly aggressive snake with a slow, aging boxer.
Snake sucking was a growing problem amongst Thai youth. It was a gateway activity that often lead to Leopard Massaging, Dugong Licking, and Gibbon Arousing.
In the end, Tavee’s documentary is a fascinating look into a very unique slice of human culture. While Thai culture is very alien to me, Thai snake boxing seems like the offspring of Western influence. It’s the pursuit of cash through reckless daredevilry, much like jumping a canyon on a motorcycle or wrestling Crocodiles on Animal Planet. In that way, it’s very depressing to watch these animals being taunted for sport and money. It’s almost a bittersweet victory when the snakes catch one of the boxers off guard and send him to the hospital, and while I wouldn’t say Tavee wants you to empathize with the snakes, he’s not entirely on the side of the boxers, either. Tavee captures some great moments with his colorful cast, and sheds light on some really interesting behavior. I wouldn’t say it’s a must-see, though. The snake boxing clips can get repetitive, and the music is generic at best. There’s also a jarring "snake acid trip" scene that feels very out of place during the last half hour. It’s all redeemed by this man:
Paul considered himself the Yanni of the BassoonMonica.
- whose gyrating hips and fanciful melodies serve as a segue between the film’s different subjects. I’d love to know the name of the instrument he’s playing. Seriously, this guy is a human non-sequitur and literally makes the documentary. What’s even better than his musical act is his seemingly hostile reaction to being filmed for the documentary. As soon as he realizes he’s being captured on camera, he stops playing, grunts obscenities (well, they sound like obscenities), and leaves the scene in a huff. It’s hilarious.
After several weeks of driving with his new friends, the scenery began to change in weird and unsettling ways. It dawned on George that this was definitely not the way to the Kenny Chesney concert.
We’re given some production credits and biographies, but it’s just padding. For all intents and purposes, there aren’t any extras. It doesn’t matter, since Kiss My Snake is a little film that stands fine on its own. The video isn’t anything special (unfortunately for Tavee, Ban Kok Sa Ngu is constantly cloudy), and the audio is equally unimpressive Dolby mono track. The cover art is liberal with its usage of the color green, but it’s kind of fun.
After designing several unpopular products (including the ill-fated "erotic moccasin"), Sabai found success with his line of comfortable yet seductive ‘MANties™‘, the sultry undergarment for men.
7.0 out of 10