Chocolate (UK - DVD R2)
Marcus likes all kinds of Chocolate: Twixes, Mars bars, Elbow to the Faces...
Zen (JeeJa Yanina) is a young autistic girl whose life is on the verge of collapse when her mother, Zin (Ammara Siripong) is diagnosed with cancer. Family friend and childhood buddy Moom (Taphon Phopwandee) is doing everything he can to help by raising money for Zen’s mum’s treatment, which up until this point has been taking advantage of Zen’s special skills.
You see, Zen may suffer from a mental disability, but growing up next to a Muay Thai kickboxing school and watching Tony Jaa movies religiously has given Zen the knack for movement and quick reactions. Taking advantage of this, she and Moom have been making money by charging the public to throw balls at her and we see her skills come into play as she catches them, no matter where they come from.
Moom then discovers an old book that belongs to Zen’s mum, Zin. The book lists people who owe her money and Moom, in desperate need to pay for Zin’s treatments, approaches these people to reclaim past debts. However, little do Zen and Moom know that Zin used to be a Yakuza Wife and her ex-hubby is still in control of the companies they are trying to get Zin’s cash back from, and it’s not helping that Zen is kicking the crap out of anyone that refuses.
Generally, I love martial arts movies, though it has to be said that post- Matrix, they have taken the form down the ‘too cool for school’ route and frankly it’s all gone a little style over content for my liking. Too many big name stars flipping about on wires or spending months prepping for a few glossy fight scenes that are badly edited just doesn’t do it for me. Watching Chocolate is like a beautiful antidote to all of that.
From the same guys that brought us Ong Bak a few years ago, which was another movie that had much the same jaw dropping effect on me, comes Chocolate, starring JeeJa Yanin as Zen, in her super talented debut role. Taking much the same route as the Ong Bak did, Chocolate is essentially the simplest, yet most effective form of action movie that’s out there. Take a character—put them in a room with some bad guys who don’t give up—fight. Layer some plot around that and make sure every time we go back to fighting it’s even more impressive than the last time we saw it. See, it’s as simple and frankly, as effective, as that.
It’s personal preference, but I for one adore this type of martial arts affair. This is the type of martial arts movie I grew up with. My brother and I loved getting as many Jackie Chan movies on rental as we could find and just mentally devouring them over the coming weeks. Stuff like Armour of God or Wheels on Meals or any of the more mad-cap Chan movies. I don’t care if these movies are essentially just a showcase for the star and their skills, I don’t care how farfetched it all gets or how thin the plot holding it all up is. I don’t care that the villains are goofy or stereotypes (and they really are here, the majority being lady boys). I just take great delight in seeing some of the most finely orchestrated fight scenes by stars that are actually doing it all and what’s even more of a delight is seeing it in this low budget form.
Chocolate is just crammed full of moments that left me shell shocked with joy—be it crazy fly kicks or mid-air splits, JeeJa Yanin is somehow able to take down two foes with a single swing of an elbow. Whether it’s stupidly loyal factory employees landing awkwardly (or indeed painfully) after being caught by what seems an impossible blow this stuff is almost magical to watch in places with fantastic choreography. I love that this essentially falls into Zen going to a slight variation on the last location and getting into the same predicament. Whether it be an ice warehouse, a butchers warehouse or a box factory, these are all just classic martial arts locations with an unlimited amount of scope and plenty of things to interact with. I also adore how, even though this is super violent, no one really gets that hurt. Yes the bad guys are in pain, they may even have a butcher’s cleaver lodged in the shoulder blade, but it’s all done with that almost slapstick sense of humour that just keeps the mood fairly light and doesn’t draw you away from the show of kicking ass in lots of wonderful ways. That is until we reach the climax.
The last half hour just doesn’t stop. It’s literally throws everything it can muster at Zen for the closing of this movie, whether it be the armies of faceless foes with black suits, swordsmen, chequered bandana-wearing men or even, and I’m still sort of reeling from this one, another disabled character who moves unpredictably but has some mad skills much like Zen. Seriously the fighting just doesn’t stop and the speed at which it’s coming at you is relentless. One minute you are staggered by how fast Zen can climb up the side of a building, the next you are taking great joy in a bad guy bouncing off of all of the balconies on his way down but before you can take it all in, you’re amazed at the use of a flying knee to the face that Zen manages to unleash on the smallest of ledges. It’s quite simply amazing to watch and whether or not the story is good or not, and thankfully it just about is here, this is a proper martial arts movie and frankly it’s some of the most fun I’ve had all year.
The video here is not very consistent at all. It’s grainy as all hell with plenty of image noise. The colours are often soft, there’s blocking and a real lack of detail. When it’s good, the image is usually soaked in a warm glow, when it’s bad, it’s usually bathed in a really soft green tint but you know what, I didn’t care at all. If anything it just made Chocolate feel more authentic and refreshingly old school. So once again it’s going to come down to how good a picture you actually want from a genre that is steeped in low budget glory.
Once again, this won’t be winning awards. Other than a nice use of incidental music in the dramatic scenes that manages to spread itself nicely over all the speakers, this really struggles on the audio front. Punches and kicks all sound okay but when the action music comes in it almost feels as if it’s struggling to be heard. It’s muted, it’s soft and weirdly it just feels placed there with very little thought. The only scene where this is any different is the tussle between Zen and the track-suited special needs boy where they fight to an almost break beat disco number to add effect to the bizarre situation.
It doesn’t take too long to realize that most of these features are EPK style and get a little repetitive. ‘Breaking the Mold’ (13:47) is essentially a making of with little bit of history from director, Prachya Pinkaew and the stars, mixed with some raw footage from the sets. ‘Step by Step’ (10:47) is the same deal but explains how the film took four years to make and shows you the small segments they film to put a movie like this together. It’s pretty damn impressive how focused each and every move is without it ever feeling too staged on film.
‘A Star is Born’ (05:27) focuses on Jeeja Yanin and her skills, explaining all the styles she’s trained under and comparisons to Tony Jaa. ‘Fighting Talent’ (07:02) looks at the stunt work involved, whilst ‘Real Fighters’ (04:07) looks at the four real Thai kickboxing champions used in the fight scenes. By this stage all of the features really begin to blur into one another, showing many of the same clips and fight practice. The last of the featurettes is ‘The Stars of Chocolate’ (07:02) which shows some of the actors’ past projects and their status in their home grown cinema. It’s actually really interesting to find out about a lot of the experiences some of these guys have had over the years.
Finishing up there are six deleted scenes, and a collection of five ‘Outtakes & Highlights’ segments as well as a trailer gallery of two trailers and four TV spots and a Training Workshop (04:35) which really shows just how much goes into the timing and attention to detail of this fantastic work.
There’s also a massive bank of eight trailers for other movies, including the Monkey Magic movie.
Weak video, poor audio and okay features, but d’ya know what…I couldn’t ask for much more to make this any better a watching experience. This is proper martial arts and feels gritty and realistic. This is everything that the genre does well and I had a total blast with it.
I recommend that you get hold of this movie, sit down with friends and enjoy every single second of the action together because Chocolate was made to thrill and you’ll need friends to bounce your ‘did you just see that?’ and ‘I can’t believe she did that!’ reactions off of and like it’s Cadbury equivalent, Chocolate is insanely more-ish.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 5th November 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Thai, Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai
Extras: Featurettes, Trailers, Deleted Scnes, Outakes & Highlights
Easter Egg: No
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: JeeJa Yanin
Length: 88 minutes
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