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CHOCOLATE (2008)

-Review by Nic Brown-

 

Martial arts films are not often known for their plots. In fact, to quote Joe Bob Briggs, most of them “don’t let the plot get in the way of the story”. For most martial arts films, everything that happens is simply a vehicle to justify the next big fight scene or action sequence. Prachya Pinkaew’s film CHOCOLATE is a surprisingly well written film that gives the characters some real depth, in addition to displaying the exceptional martial arts talents of up and coming star JeeJa Yanin.

 

Yanin plays Zen, the autistic child of a union between a Yakuza boss Masashi (Hiroshi Abe) and Thai mob enforcer Zin (Ammara Siripong). The union between the two opposing gang members has a Romeo & Juliet feel to it, except that the Thai mob boss apparently has feelings for Zin as well. So instead of killing the lovers, he forbids Zin from seeing Masashi again under pain of death. Not knowing that Zin is pregnant, Masashi returns to Japan.

 

Zin leaves her Thai mob past behind and dedicates herself to raising her daughter. It soonbecomes apparent that Zen isn’t like other children; she has autism. Her character is withdrawn and introverted. She spends her time watching martial arts films, playing games with her adopted brother Moom, and emulating the Mui Thai kick boxers she sees training at the school next door. Like so many people suffering from autism, the condition robs her of some normal functions, but she has an extraordinary gift as well: she absorbs the fighting styles she sees, and her reflexes border on the superhuman.

 

To make money to help out with the family bills, Moom and Zen perform shows demonstrating her abilities. But when her mother becomes sick and her treatments are too expensive to afford, Moom and Zen come up with a new plan. They find a book of accounts from when Zin was a mob enforcer, and thinking these are simply people who owe her mother money, they begin visiting them to collect. This is when Zen’s martial arts skills begin to be truly displayed as she becomes involved in spectacularly choreographed fight scenes in locales as unusual as an ice factory, a construction site, and a butcher’s shop. Zen’s skill is unrivaled, and she and Moom soon begin collecting on the debts owed. Their success draws the attention of Zin’s old boss, and soon the fight is for more than just money to pay the medical bills as Zen and Moom cross the mob’s path.

 

While the story itself is very straight forward and even appears, on the surface, to be the before mentioned vehicle to move the film from fight to fight, it is deeper than that. Pinkaew takes the time to develop the characters emotionally, giving them genuine, understandable motivations for their actions. He also handles the issue of autism in a sensitive fashion, never allowing Zen to become an object of ridicule or a source of cheap humor. At one point, Zen even faces off against another fighter who has a disability that enhances his fighting skills. This could have easily been an insensitive and offensive scene, but instead it works out to be one of the best fight sequences in the film as Zen must adapt to something new.

 

For viewers who are a fan of martial arts, CHOCOLATE is a must see film. Pinkaew’s eye for action is clear and he has a style as unique and memorable as Hong Kong action master John Woo. So check out CHOCOLATE. The name has little meaning to the film itself, but you’ll definitely be craving more after you see it!



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