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It hurts like hell – a closer look at the complex world of Muay Thai boxing

July 13, 2022

The Netflix docuseries Hurts Like Hell was released on the streaming service on July 13, 2022.

Lance Armstrong tells us that although he’s admitted to doping for most of his professional cycling career, he doesn’t consider himself a cheater. Why? Because he was in a sport where everyone cheats, so he didn’t really gain any advantage; according to his logic, the playing field was actually level. This is, at best, a morally corrupt argument, but it does make some sense if you think about it. Hurts Like Hell, streaming now on Netflix, takes that logic one step further and asks its audience, what if it’s not just your competitors who are corrupt, but everyone in sports, including doctors, referees, bookmakers and coaches. Who, in this case, is deceived, if everyone cheats?

The sport in question is Muay Thai boxing, a sport where the rules are relatively simple but everything around it is complex. During 4 episodes, we are introduced to a world of corruption and violence; where everyone’s motives are questionable and no one is reliable. The game simultaneously supports the sport and kills it. The financial stakes are important but the human stakes are even more so.

In a crowded marketplace of sports dramas, where trustworthy tropes are revisited and heroic stories are told. It’s refreshing to get a glimpse into the darker sides of a sport whose credibility will remain in question until he can overcome his gambling addiction.

Hurts Like Hell cuts between dramatic storytelling, featuring actors to recreate events (it’s inspired by real events) and talking heads of real people to provide context and commentary. At first I found the constant interjections from the talking heads frustrating which initially made it difficult for the show to get into a rhythm, much like having an annoying friend next to you constantly interrupting the show to explain what happens when you have already understood. However, as the narrative unfolded and became more complex, it became useful to have the insight of those who have spent time in and around the sport.

With all this darkness and violence in the foreground, you might wonder why anyone is drawn to this world? Hurts Like Hell also answers this question quite well. Basically land on two compelling reasons; it’s a way out of poverty for those who are gifted and hard-working enough, and many decent people just love the sport, which is worth protecting.

The framing, lighting, and camerawork illustrate the murky nature of the world we’re looking at, but can also sometimes make it unnecessarily difficult to follow some combat sequences. The actors cast in the roles of the boxers move well, and the physicality of this brutal sport is demonstrated with well-thought-out choreography. The overall effect is a captivating watch, with a richness and depth that surprised me. Hurts Like Hell caught me off guard and stuck with me ever since I watched it.

What do you think of the Netflix docuseries Hurts Like Hell? Comments below.

You can watch this series with a Netflix subscription.

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