‘Doi Boy’ Director + Cast INTERVIEW: New on Netflix film breaks barriers on sex, gender and immigration issues in Asia

Now on Netflix, the Doi Boy team talks about breaking the silence on gender diversity, sex work and immigration issues in Asia through a docudrama-esque story with a human touch

Recently released on Netflix worldwide, Thai film Doi Boy (2023) dives straight into typically under-addressed issues in Asia – gender diversity, sex work and crucial to the story, illegal immigration. Hotly anticipated on the festival scene, tickets for the film were said to have sold out in less than 10 minutes during its debut at the Busan International Film Festival. But why are viewers so keen to see it?

Thai director Nontawat Numbenchapol typically produces documentaries but took to the silver screen to expose a story he discovered. “A documentary couldn’t show those types of jobs or the real situation as it would be too right-wing. I turned to drama to tell the story about those who don’t want to be soldiers.” And in order to escape, fall into all sorts of murky circumstances.

After five years of script writing, he’s packed a lot into his first feature film, using it to open up rare conversations. “I also had a vision of telling a story about gender issues. Asia still has difficulty with gender diversity topics – you can feel it.” 


Starring Awat ‘Ud’ Ratanapintha (Bangkok Love Stories: Objects of Affection) as Sorn, Arak ‘Pae’ Amornsupasiri (4 Kings, Oh My Ghost) as Ji and Aelm Bhumibhat ‘Aim’ Thavornsiri (Hunger, Deep) as Wuth, they’re ordinary people struggling through fairly ferocious situations.

Illegal immigration automatically means a life without rights. Yet for some, this seems better than what they left behind. For Sorn, an ethnic Shan born into Buddhism, he chooses to escape Myanmar conscription into Thailand’s Chiang Mai. Yet there, he’s out of the frying pan and into the fire, forced to evade police and systemic extortion as an illegal.

Sorn has a multitude of odd jobs to keep a roof over his head, but ‘massage’ seems to be the highest payer, so he’s practically without choice. Yet stoic Sorn chooses to see it as just another of his odd jobs. It’s only one of many areas of his life where he quietly accepts the way things are. Still, he soldiers on seeking a passport that he believes will offer some relief and the chance for better paying work, fewer opportunities to wear a target.

As with much of the film, unsurprisingly, a lot of the action takes place in dark spaces. Numbenchapol focuses quite a bit on sound, such as breathing. “I’m not sure you’d call it a ‘technique’ but I tried to bring out the feeling of being hurt. I’m not sure what it looks like, but I wanted to show the feeling in some way.” Sorn and Ji are often straight-faced, putting on a brave front, but you feel each man’s terror in his breaths. 

Every character feels life-like in all their complexities, stunned by each new twist. It’s impressive considering it started as a documentary topic based on front-line interviews and somewhat maintains a documentary texture. “In workshopping the characters with the cast, we were able to bring them to life. The original script didn’t look like what you see. The actors made them real.”  

“I tried to cover many issues in Thailand. I wanted to give each character layers – so there’s a big thank you to the actors. Through workshopping, the cast developed the characters deeply. When I worked with each actor, I asked ‘What do you think?’ ‘Do you believe the story?’ From there we shaped each character together. The script was so much better after working with the actors – each character became human.”


Director Numbenchapol throws those questions back to the actors today – ‘What do you all think?’ He notes that Ratanapintha, who plays Sorn, got the role fairly close to their filming dates. “He got the role at the last minute, so only had a month and a half to prepare. Including changing his accent, learning strip dancing, understanding and getting into character as a sex worker plus learning massage.”

Ratanapintha fills in, “Now I’m 27 and in the film Sorn is a lot younger and sometimes uniformed. I had to change my attitude and way of thinking to get into his soul and heart. When I first read the script, I thought Sorn was straight. But since there’s no information about his thinking of his sexuality, I tried to understand what’s going on in his world and what he would be thinking. I needed him to be a human, even as a sex worker with Ji is his client.”

“He and Wuth also seem to have a connection. But as an actor, without any background or understanding… sexuality is complicated. With Sorn, we don’t have to know. He just enjoys life. The way he thinks is different – it’s just work. Serving his client is just one job he has to do. It’s just being human.”

Thavornsiri who plays Wuth notes, “The hardest thing for Wuth is that he lost everything in one night. He lost his love, lost just everything. When working on the script together, I wanted to stick to the heart of my character – his broken heart. But then when he’s with Sorn, it’s about two lovely guys traveling around together.”

For the often-long-haired Amornsupasiri who plays Ji, he notes, “I’m a long-time friend of the director. When I heard the story, I wanted to be Ji. It was super challenging for me. For the five months before shooting, I tried to get bigger. But more importantly, I had to have violence in my head. It was scary. After the shoot, I had to party for three months straight to leave Ji behind.”


The director goes on to explain the name of the film, a legend in Chiang Mai. “‘Doi’ means mountain. When speaking to friends in Chiang Mai, many years ago the most popular night club was called Doi Boy – so it was real place – but it was closed by the time I heard about it. Everyone in Chiang Mai knows about this place – it’s a really famous strip bar.  And it’s well-known that the workers are ethnics [from elsewhere].”

“Those friends took me to see many of the clubs and if you want to see a real life ‘Doi Boy’ club, there are many in Chiang Mai. And they are much more hardcore than in the film. Everyone on the team had to go see a show to prepare. It was the first time any of them had seen something like this and it made an impact for what we wanted to create.”

The word ‘human’ comes up again and again, testament to Numbenchapol’s passion for his story and drive to uncover reality, making a statement about the brutality awaiting young men minding their own business. There’s a resounding chant by protestors toward the end of the film that encompasses what seems to be his message. Straight and to the point – ‘It could be you.’


What’s your take-away from Doi Boy? For the review, click here. For more interviews, here. And for more from the Busan International Film Festival, here

Feel free to check out more of our movie reviews here!

2 thoughts on “‘Doi Boy’ Director + Cast INTERVIEW: New on Netflix film breaks barriers on sex, gender and immigration issues in Asia”

  1. Yes, it’s all of that. It’s a little rough around the edges but according to Director Numbenchapol it’s reality, which is always a compelling watch. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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