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“Chocolate” is a film which has been causing considerable excitement amongst martial arts fans, unsurprisingly given that it is Thai director Prachya Pinkaew’s follow up to his worldwide hits “Ong Bak” and “Warrior King”. Having made a star of Tony Jaa, he here aims to do the same for female Muay Thai fighting sensation JeeJa Yanin, casting her in a similar role which basically sees her as an innocent taking on hordes of faceless opponents in a showcase for her skills. The film is being released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK via Showbox’s Cine Asia label, and comes with a variety of special features, including several featurettes on the cast, the making of and the martial arts choreography, as well as the usual deleted scenes.
The plot, such as it is, follows JeeJa Yanin as a young autistic girl called Zen, who has learned martial arts by watching the films of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and, funnily enough, Tony Jaa. Her skills come in handy when she and her friend Mangmoom decide to collect on the debts owed to her ailing ex-gangster mother by a number of people. Unfortunately, this brings them to the attention of her mother’s old gang comrades and rivals, who still bear a grudge against her for having fallen in love with Zen’s father, a Japanese yakuza.
Given the bone crunching brawls of “Ong Bak”, expectations for “Chocolate” were naturally high, and thankfully Pinkaew delivers exactly what the fans want, serving up an impressive amount of no holds barred martial arts action. The film is very much in the same style, being pleasingly free from special effects or cheap wirework, and has the same kind of visceral impact, with the viewer being able to actually feel the blows and kicks as they rain down. The stunt work is excellent and free from artifice or any obvious use of doubles, resulting in some truly breathtaking scenes. The choreography is similarly hard hitting, with the action being convincing and entertaining, and the film has several memorable sequences, including a battle that takes place on the side of a building which stands as one of the best and most exciting martial arts scenes in recent years.
Awesome action aside, “Chocolate” suffers from similar problems to “Ong Bak”, primarily that it is saddled with a melodramatic streak several miles wide. As a result, the film is slow to get started, and on a number of occasions loses its way thanks to Pinkaew throwing in another needlessly sentimental scene. Of course, this is not to say that taking a stab at character development is a bad thing, though unfortunately here it is handled too clumsily to elicit anything other than groans of laughter, mainly consisting of slow motion musical montages. To be fair, despite these lapses, “Chocolate” does see Pinkaew progressing somewhat as a filmmaker, with his direction being far more polished, and enjoying better production values than “Ong Bak”.
Thankfully, the film has a winning ace up its sleeve in the form of JeeJa Yanin, who has considerable screen presence, enough so to transcend the shallowness, and indeed silliness of her role. Whenever she is given the chance to cut loose the film springs into dynamic life, and her impressive martial arts talents bring a genuine sense of danger and excitement to the proceedings. Even during the quieter scenes she is a real joy to watch, and is surely destined for great things.
Certainly, her acrobatic performance and the outstanding action scenes in general mark “Chocolate” as a must see for martial arts fans. The film’s shortcomings, whilst an annoyance, are not unexpected, and do not prevent it from delivering an intense, thrilling action experience.
Prachya Pinkaew (director) / Chukiat Sakveerakul, Nepalee Sakweerakul (screenplay)
CAST: JeeJa Yanin …
Ammara Siripong … Zin
Hiroshi Abe … Masashi
Pongpat Wachirabunjong … No. 8
Yanin Vismitananda … Zen