Chocolate (UK - BD)
Marcus enjoyed the Chocolate Blu-ray variety even more than Chocolate DVD.
I reviewed Chocolate on DVD a few weeks back and I ended that review by saying that ‘ Chocolate is insanely more-ish.’ Well, lucky me, I now get to check out this high kicking thrill ride again but this time on high-definition Blu-ray.
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.
Watching this for a second time, Chocolate was just as much fun, except this time I was waiting for the next big moment to come along knowing just how much fun it was going to be to see it again. In my opinion JeeJa Yanin is every bit as thrilling to watch as Tony Jaa was in Ong Bak and if the same team decide to throw these two in a film together to fight side by side or even better, against each other, we are all in for a real treat.
The DVD’s video quality really didn’t do much to leave an impression and whilst the Blu-ray isn’t exactly a show off disc, it still manages to be a hell of a lot more impressive than the DVD.
The HD image is still quite soft in places, but the image is a lot brighter and viewer friendly. Some of the exterior locations are noticeably higher in detail and a lot more of the movie looks more naturally lit than it did on DVD. Some highlights were the wooden beam Zen kicks as a child, which was flaky and layered and very high on the detail front, the fight scene in the butchers warehouse was a lot better to look at as well. Whilst they were still a tad grainy and even suffered from very slight colour bleeding, the whole scene felt far more layered, with multiple tones of red and the higher level of detail really showing off the set and the tables of slaughtered animals.
Basically the Blu-ray improves the video of Chocolate as you’d expect it to. Some moments feel so much better it’s almost like watching a different movie and other parts merely up the quality to a degree where you don’t notice the low budget constraints the film has. It does exactly what an upgrade is supposed to do and comparing the two transfers really made the DVD look much worse.
Actually presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, even though the disc only says Thai 5.1, there is a slight feeling of improvement overall. This is mainly noticeable in the ‘ooph’ of the kicks and punches. They really hammer here and have more of a weight to them that they seemed to on DVD. Same can be said for the sound effects in general. Ice sliding across the floor, fabrics catching the air as a leg flies out to kick, all much more apparent than they were on the DVD track.
Once again the music in the action scenes 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 as it was on the DVD. The incidentally music still works a little better but there’s really not that much of a drastic improvement here overall, just a little more clout in the impacts.
The Blu-ray has the same features as the DVD, minus the trailers for other movies.
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.
Compared to the DVD, this is a great example of an HD upgrade. It’s by no means impressive when compared to other Blu-ray’s and it certainly has very few moments that genuinely impress but as I said on my DVD review, it really doesn’t matter for me that much, considering its martial arts heritage.
Chocolate proved to be as enjoyable the second time out as it was the first and has many moments that are some of the most impressive fight scenes I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s wildly entertaining, despite its plot that falls secondary to the action and once again I recommend you get hold of this one for a fun time to be had by all.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 3rd November 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Thai, Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Thai
Extras: Featurettes, Trailers, Deleted Scnes, Outakes & Highlights
Easter Egg: No
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Cast: JeeJa Yanin
Length: 88 minutes
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