A former soldier and retired Muay Thai fighter takes orphans and abandoned boys under his wing where he provides them with refuge, raises them as his own, and trains them in the art of Muay Thai. This is Tate Zandstra’s documentary Torn Cloth
It was only a few weeks ago that director Tate Zandstra sent us his last film to review, the brutal and powerful documentary, Mon Boxing. Zandstra’s short film used bare-knuckle fighting, specifically Thailand’s national sport Muay Thai, as a framework on which to help build his audience’s understanding of the current refugee crisis. Zandstra is an expert in his field and Torn Cloth is another uncompromising look at his specialist subject.
There is a long and storied history to Torn Cloth, one that would make a brilliant documentary in itself, as it was originally filmed in 2013. Zandstra lived with the subjects of his documentary, Jawee, and the kids, on-and-off for over a year, filming as much as he could and burning his footage onto DVDs as he went along. Disaster-after-disaster occurred during the making of the original film, and it was very nearly left on the scrap heap, but when Covid happened, Zandstra’s original editor found a hard drive that had every single piece of footage filmed for Torn Cloth 2013 on it, so Zandstra spent hundreds of hours during the lockdown cleaning all the files, deleting all the remnants, and editing the film all over again almost 10 years later.
What I can safely say is that all of Zandstra’s hard work has paid off and was definitely worth it, as Torn Cloth is one of the most interesting documentaries I have seen in a long time. Using a mixture of talking heads and live footage, Zandstra interviews the trainers, fighters, and other journalists to talk about life at the Thai boxing camps and their lives as tournament fighters.
Again given gravitas by narrator Stephen Haynes, who also narrated Mon Boxing, we are constantly learning more about the environment we are watching. Interestingly, it’s Zandstra’s lack of film-making experience in 2013 that actually helps Torn Cloth stand out in 2022. Without any rules or conventions to hinder him, Zandstra simply points his camera wherever he likes and at whatever piques his interest. This results in so much intimate footage that we begin to feel we are a part of the local villages and festivals that he visits. Unlike most documentaries where the audience feels like an outsider looking in, Zandstra’s closeness to the subject matter makes us feel more like an insider looking out.
Thanks to some great editing and use of music, the fight scenes are vicious, fierce, and always brutal, while along the way we learn small facts like Torn Cloth is the name given to boxing that occurs without the use of gloves and also more about the political situation between Thailand and Burma. We also take a brief detour to learn a little bit about Triad gangsters and how they are involved, but mainly we learn that the fights are a huge part of the historical relationship between the Thai and Burmese people.
A couple of criticisms that you could lay at Torn Cloth is that some of the images are not too sharp, mainly due to the changes in technology, while the audio can be sometimes hit and miss with the odd moment of silence. I would have also liked to have seen some of the stories covered in greater depth. But none of those criticisms should detract from a thought-provoking and powerful piece of film-making from a hardworking and talented director.
You can catch the documentary here –