Hurts Like Hell is a Thai-language Netflix Original series directed by Kittichai Wanprasert and written by Siwat Decharat that mixes dramatization and interviews to show several interrelated vignettes of the horrors and corruption of Muay Thai in Thailand. From the bettors (gurus) to the refs and promoters, to the coaches and the boxers themselves, it’s corruption and tragedy all the way down.
This series’s format feels unique and perfect for driving its message. Over four episodes of a bit under an hour each, Hurts Like Hell goes back and forth between dramatic scenes and interviews with people formerly involved with boxing in Thailand. Muay Thai is the national sport. It’s beloved by so many and for so many more, feels like a ticket to earning money and escaping poverty and other dismal situations. But it’s often an inglorious sport filled with deep corruption that results in bribery, cheating, drugging, and killing. The series uses its dramatic tension to draw you in and its biting interviews to contextualize everything to great effect.
The first episode is cursory, giving definitions of everything you need to know about the Muay Thai ecosystem while running you through basically everything wrong with the system. You don’t realize what’s wrong at first; you think you’re just watching a regular boxing match. Admittedly, it was a bit confusing initially. I didn’t fully understand the format and didn’t realize the people in the interviews weren’t actors, and the actors weren’t depicting real events, just events similar to real ones from recent history. But as the series goes on and dives into more specific components of the Muay Thai world and its horrors, the format becomes gripping and informative.
The acting is also really, really good. Pretty much every character is going through something traumatic or dastardly, and every single actor chews up their opportunity to imbue this series with emotion. Particularly impressive are all the boxing matches themselves. There are full matches that go on during the course of the show and every one of them looks no different than a match you’d see in real life. The realistic matches actually contributed heavily to my confusion at first over what kind of show I was watching and whether it was a documentary or a drama. In the other scenes, though, watching the boxers and others struggle with relationships, abuse, and other stressors is captivating specifically because the scenes are so well acted.
One aspect I’m not totally sold on is the music used throughout. It’s always this melancholic English modern rock music that, on the one hand, fits the pessimistic outlook the show has on Muay Thai. But on the other hand, it most often took me out of each dramatic moment because it was so melodramatic that it just didn’t feel like it belonged.
As a whole, the series is very clear about how it feels about Muay Thai: it wants to see it thrive, be saved, and be safe and fun like it was before gambling ruined everything. But it’s not sure that’s possible with how deep the corruption goes and how much money flows through betting. I empathize with this outlook enormously. It’s a classic challenge where a once beloved tradition is mutated beyond recognition into something no longer healthy. Still, those who love the tradition simply can’t or won’t let it go because it’s a tradition. It’s hard to make changes, even for the greater good, when most everyone is so infatuated that they delude themselves into believing things are based on nostalgia rather than reconciling with reality. People deserve to enjoy what brings them joy. Just not at the expense of so many people’s lives.
Hurts Like Hell is a great conduit for illuminating the horrors of the Thai boxing ecosystem. Its creative blend of drama and interview creates a viewing experience that makes you empathize with the subject while also growing to abhor it. It’s exceptionally well acted and well crafted, though it does have a learning curve at first and some odd musical choices.
Hurts Like Hell is streaming now on Netflix.
Hurts Like Hell
Hurts Like Hell is a great conduit for shining a light on the horrors of the Thai boxing ecosystem. Its creative blend of drama and interview creates a viewing experience that makes you empathize with the subject while also growing to abhor it. It’s exceptionally well acted and well crafted, though it does have a learning curve at first and some odd musical choices.