In Tom Rivers’ Fischer Bay Plaza strip mall, there is a hardware store, and a dollar store, and a bank, and a Chinese restaurant. And a place called Girl Fight.
“Girl Fight: A Muay Thai Story,” a documentary that will be shown at the Rahway International Film Festival this weekend, takes you inside this kickboxing gym whose motto is “Empowering Women Thru Martial Arts.” The central figure is the gym’s owner and operator, Prairie Rugilo, of Seaside Heights, who also kickboxes competitively. She had a lot to deal with over the year and a half that the documentary was filmed, including two tough losses in the ring, plus Hurricane Sandy, and the Seaside Heights boardwalk fire about a year later (which seems to shake her up even more than Sandy did).
While she’s ferocious in the ring, she seems pretty easy-going and personable and quick to laugh outside of it. And while she doesn’t seem to be the most reflective person at the start of the film, by the end of it — due, undoubtedly, to what she went through as the film was being made — she seems to have become more philosophical, and less focused on winning. The important thing is to keep the gym going, to serve all the girls and women who benefit from it. “I can’t really see life without Muay Thai in it,” she says.
Director Matthew Kaplowitz also follows other kickboxers who train at Girl Fight, and records their ups and downs as they square off against athletes from other gyms. And it’s kind of cool what’s not in the movie. Kaplowitz doesn’t seem to think there’s anything odd about female athletes getting into a ring and trying to beat each other up, like male athletes have been doing for centuries. He just accepts that they are doing it, and gets down to the business at hand, which is showing how much hard work it takes to do what they do, and what it’s like to be inside the gym or at a match with them. And exploring the obstacles each woman faces, the highs and lows of winning and losing, the way this aspect of their lives intersects with their personal lives and their day jobs, etc. I’m sure any adult who’s serious about an athletic pursuit will be able to relate.
“Girl Fight: A Muay Thai Story” will be screened at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Hamilton Stage of the Union County Performing Arts Center; for information, visit rahwayfilmfest.com.