Movie martial arts fans will owe a debt of gratitude to Prachya Pinkaew, the director of Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior, for introducing the world to “Jija” Yanin Vismistananda, a young, talented, female martial artist, in the oddly titled Chocolate. The movie has some fantastically choreographed fight sequences that could well become iconic moments in a long career. Unfortunately, they are interspersed throughout a bad movie, which is why I recommend watching the DVD, so you can fast-forward to the action scenes when you can’t take anymore of the story elements.
Chocolate tells the story of a young autistic girl named Zen (Jija) whose parents, as revealed in the prologue, are different members of warring gangs. Her father, Masashi, is a Japanese Yakuza, and her mother, Sin, works for the Thai mafia leader known as No. 8. The lovers’ secret affair is discovered and Masashi returns to Japan. Inexplicably, No. 8 shoots himself in the foot on purpose, possibly to be reminded with every step he takes about Sin’s betrayal and his hurt feelings.
Years after Zen is born, No. 8 finds Sin in an apartment and shoots her in the foot, which he should have done originally. As Zen grows older, she becomes a savant in fighting simply by watching the techniques of men training in Muy Thai and martial arts movies. When Sin comes down with cancer, Zen and her friend Mangmoom have to find a way to make money to pay for the expensive medicine. They discover a book of Sin’s that has names and amounts owed, so they go to collect. These businessmen don’t see a need to pay their “protection” money to a couple of kids, but Zen is on a mission, so she has to beat it out of them, which usually entails first going through the businessman’s workers. Of course, the money owed is meant to go to No.8 and he’s not happy that the kids are keeping it. Zen has to defeat No.8 and his henchmen, so she and her mother will know peace.
Under the guidance of Action Supervisor Panna Rittikrai, the movie fight scenes make great use of the properties of the set, whether in a warehouse or a butcher shop. The last third of the movie is non-stop action with Zen battling a number of opponents, hand-to-hand and with weapons. The climatic battle is an amazing set piece that takes place on the side of a building, which fellow Snob Fantasma el Rey rightly pointed out looked like Donkey Kong. The characters move around the different levels, some jumping up, and others falling down and falling down hard. The only slight distraction during the fight scenes is a lot of the same people are used over and over and there appearances aren’t altered enough to keep them from being recognized.
While Jija talents as a fighter are great, and I have no doubt we will see her again, Pinkaew did her a great disservice by allowing the character’s autism to be conveyed through one of the most annoying acting performances ever recorded. She repeated dialogue in a very annoying, high-pitched voice that became almost unbearable to sit through, droning on in scene after scene. The story felt like it was pieced together to connect the fight scenes and some ideas made little sense. For example, Zen has a fear of flies that is unexplained. When she was little, she is shown to be so quick she eats one out of the air, but there’s no transition.
Even with those negatives, the action scenes are a must-see for any martial arts fan. Make sure you stay through the credits and you can see some of the moments where things went awry like a kick connecting to the head or a guy ending up in the hospital after falling a story or two.