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Original Title:

Thailand 2008


Prachya Pinkaew

“Jija” Yanin Vismistananda
Ammara Siripong
Hiroshi Abe
Pongpat Wachirabunjong

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Story: Zin (Ammara Siripong) is a member of the thai mafia. Her boss and boyfriend gets into trouble with some Yakuza, who meddles with business in his turf. The leader of the Yakuza, Masashi (Hiroshi Abe), after a first hostile encounter, agrees to leave the country. However, he falls in love with Zin. The couple isn't granted a happy future, though, and so Masashi eventually has to say his beloved goodbye. Zin cuts all her ties with the mafia and moves into a small apartment. She still has contact with Masashi through mails, yet she hides that she is pregnant with their common child.
Years later their daughter, Zen (Yanin Vismitananda), is grown up, but she is autistic and lives in her own small world. Nevertheless, she is blessed with extraordinary reflexes and develops a weakness for martial arts, which she learns through movies. Those skills come to good use when Zin one day falls victim to cancer and needs money for treatment. Mooma, a friend of the family, finds a book, in which several individuals are listed who still owe Zin some money from back of her mafia-days. Along with forceful Zen they look for them in order to collect the debt and get the money for Zin's hospital expenses...

Review: There was a big groan of disappointment, when word got out that Prachya Pinkaew's newest film wasn't with acrobatics- and martial arts wonder Tony Jaa in the main lead. A female, an up to that date unknown actress, was to replace him. A female heroine? Well, that's something that could appease some fans, because when was the last time that a action-heroine actually had something to say in a martial arts flick? Probably back then when Michelle Yeoh's name resounded throughout the land. Anyway, now it's "Jija" Yanin Vismitananda's turn, and with her acting abilities and most of all with her physical efforts she truely has what it takes to revive a forgotten genre. However, can "Chocolate" as a whole actually meet the expectations of a fan community, that after movies like "Ong Bak" and "Tom Yum Goong" is in fact asking for more? The question is irrelevant. "Chocolate" stands on his own feet, also has to struggle with the same obvious flaws as the other movies of the director have, yet is one hell of a fun ride!

The story of the movies sounds interesting, but apart from a promising main plot around an autistic girl, there isn't anything to write home about. It doesn't take long until we realize that the "story" is simply created to get our heroine in as many fights and brawls as possible and confront her with random villians which she then persuades with her physical arguments that it might be better to pay back her mother's debt. Still, there is lots of repetition, so that after the second debt collection we start to think that it has to be accomplishable to come up with maybe just another different reason to throw Zen into her next fight than this.
Interestingly enough, it takes more than half an hour before the first real fight hits the screen. Up to this point the movie introduces the characters and we get to see a little bit of Zen's life as an autist. In the hands of a director who knows what to make of this material, this could have had the substance to weave a drama around it, but here there is left no doubt that this is simply an introduction in order to keep us on the tenterhooks until the first breath-taking action sequences please our eyes.

Let's get to the reason why anyone should see this movie anyway: the fights. If you have any wishful thinking about the story, just dump it again, because even though director Prachya Pinkaew announced that this time he was placing more weight onto the story, this was just empty talk. But to be honest, where can you actually find a great martial arts flick, that can also provide you with a nice story? Therefore, the lack of any true story shouldn't be a criterion for most viewers to depreciate this movie.
But then what about the fights? Do they reach the level of expertise of that incredible stunt fest called "Ong Bak"? No, certainly they don't, as Tony Jaa isn't part of the film. But that actually doesn't matter, because as already stated, "Chocolate" has the heroine-bonus. Many viewers will lose their heart to lead actress "Jija" Yanin Vismitananda. In contrast to most other thai women, which on a personal note I don't really consider to be beautiful, this is in fact the first time, that I came across a thai actress which I would call "cute". There is something innocent about her, she looks rather frail... but then she suddenly throws punches and kicks like a whirlwind, that it will take your breath away... Fantastic!

However, apart from being the fulfillment of a man's dream of a butt-kicking woman, she also delivers a surpringly well done portrayal of an autistic girl. Getting a brilliant performance out of the actors surely isn't the focus of the movie in any way, but Jija nonetheless is convincing all the way through, and if being casted in a film that dealt with the subject autism in a serious way, she maybe even would have had what it takes to have success as an actress instead of as an action heroine.
But where does this 24-years old actress suddenly come from? Originally, being discovered during the casting of "Born to Fight", there was soon no doubt that Jija's skills were too good to be wasted in a supporting role. So, Prachya Pinkaew took her into his stunt team, where she was trained in Muai Thay kick boxing and acrobatics for four years, before appearing in her first movie. Being quite helpful surely was that she was trained in Taekwondo since her 11. birthday. In "Chocolate" her moves may not appear that neat at first, but this seems to be the intention of the story since her skills certainly improve during the course of the film.

Nevertheless, what's truely a shame is that "Chocolate" sometimes suffers from unfortunate editing. Oftentimes the fights would have been in need to be cut in a more dynamic fashion, because the adrenaline isn't always pumped through the viewer's body at the highest level possible. Luckily, this changes during the excessive showdown, which proves with its innovativeness that even nowadays you can still bring inventive fighting sequences on screen. Especially the sequence on the multi-storied building with its neck-breaking stunts is good proof of that. Sadly, there was some use of wires involved into these scenes, which nevertheless couldn't prevent from some serious injuries to happen. Sometimes you even got to ask yourself how the stuntmen and the actors actually managed to survive this movie...

Lead actress "Jija" Yanin Vismitananda did all of her action scenes herself, which earns her the respect of many martial arts fans, even the more as she also suffered some painful small injuries, as we can see during the credits rolling.
In the end, "Chocolate" simply delivers some really great fights, which all get a bonus thanks to the female protagonist. Therefore, it's also forgivable that the story from the 30. minutes onward apparently seems to have been brought on paper during a cigarette break. Jija simply has the charisma a role such as this demands and she also has the physical power and prowess to carry the movie on her shoulders alone, while on a acting level she gets support from Hiroshi Abe in a small role. Apart from all this, the concept itself, namely that an autistic girl learns martial arts through watching Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa movies, is just fascinating. "Chocolate" is simply very good entertainment devoid of any meaning, and a must-see for martial arts fans!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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