Chocolate on DVD

Friday, 17 October 2008 07:28

A martial arts film with a difference?

Coming from the same stable as kung fu blockbusters “Ong-Bak” and “Warrior King”, “Chocolate” adds a couple of interesting twists to the formula of that bone-crushing duo: its lead character, Zen, is a young girl. And she is autistic

The world already has a number of notable female kung fu stars, including Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock, but none of their characters display anything like the fragility and vulnerability that Zen initially brings to the screen.

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, and played by JeeJa Yanin, Zen lives with her mother, Zin (Ammara Siripong) and friend Mangmoom (Taphon Phopwandee). The three of them form a virtual family unit that is soon exposed to further strain when Zin is diagnosed with cancer, and becomes bed-ridden as her illness and medication take hold.

Chocolate - an extraordinary martial arts movie

In order to continue funding Zin's medical treatment, Zen and Mangmoom set about collecting debt which is detailed a notebook they discover whilst Zin is incapacitated. It's only after they embark on this enterprise that they begin to understand the danger it exposes them to, as the money is owed by all manner of underground gangsters and dastardly criminals. Zin was once a mafia boss, but her weakened state means the debtors feel no obligation to pay up, especially when their allegiance is now to a ruthless figure from Zin’s past who she desperately needs to avoid.

Fortunately for the intrepid duo, Zen has picked up some stunning fighting skills and lightning reactions as a result of her fascination with martial arts films, video games and by observing Thai boxers training in her neighbourhood. Her autism acts a little like Neo’s jacking-in sessions in “The Matrix”, enabling her to learn complex techniques and moves in the blink of an eye. Initially her talents are put to relatively mundane and not very lucrative uses by Mangmoom - like catching balls whilst seated from all angles, as a side-show freak. Once they start pursuing the names in Zin’s notebook, however, Zen’s real abilities come to the fore. And, believe me, they are pretty impressive!

As expected, the fight scenes form the core of the film, and for the most part they take place in a variety of industrial settings, including an ice factory (in a nod to Bruce Lee’s “The Big Boss”), a slaughterhouse and a warehouse. What these sets lack in character, they make up for as a mixture of open and cramped spaces, and their machinery and furniture afford a good measure of vertical combat and acrobatics as Zen and her pursuers clamber up, down, in, out, over and under the scenery!

The early fights are a bit of a mixed bag in terms of their level of excitement, but the choreography (by studio stalwart Panna Rittikrai) is fluid, and the contact between the fighters is always believable. JeeJa does a superb job of carrying the movie, and her dedication to perfecting the fights is plain to see. Before production began, she was a taekwondo trainer, but despite this she had to undergo a further two year’s training to learn the mixed fighting styles, weapons and moves used during the film.

The film took a further two years to make! As with Prachya Pinkaew’s two previous worldwide hits, the stark absence of special effects and stuntmen to carry the action pays off handsomely. The presence of three champion kick boxers also lends the film veracity, and they stretch JeeJa to her limits.

Without wishing to give too much away, the stand-out fight scene is an amazing battle on the outside of a multi-storey building. It features treacherously shallow ledges and extended neon signs hanging out over the road far below. These architectural elements assist the cast to take the action to a whole new level of excitement, fighting each other whilst simultaneously flitting from one building to the next, and dangling precariously by just a few blood-stained fingers!

When taken as a whole, “Chocolate” is undoubtedly a worthy addition to the martial arts genre. Whilst some of the fight scenes might not be quite as aggressive as those enacted by Tony Jaa in “Ong-Bak”, for example, the choreography is varied and their momentum never stops. The action doesn’t kick in for a while, but then the drama of the Zin/Zen/Mangmoom trio and Zin’s relationship with the new gangster boss and her ex-lover engross the viewer until all hell breaks loose!

JeeJa Yanin is a star to keep an eye out for, being that rare thing – an actress with real presence, acting talent and undeniable martial arts prowess. The direction is efficient, though the use of strong coloured filters to indicate the changes in location seemed a little distracting and not very subtle.

“Chocolate” is released in selected cinemas on 24 October 2008, with the DVD and Blu-Ray editions (£15.99 and £19.99 respectively – or less from ) following on just one week later, on 3 November. Both feature a decent set of extras, including a handful of featurettes dedicated to the stars, the crew and the stunts, along with half-a-dozen deleted scenes, outtakes and trailers.

"Chocolate" (Director: Prachya Pinkaew, 2008)

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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