by Del Harvey
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Chocolate is the latest from director Prachya Pinkaew (Ong-bak, The Protector), featuring martial arts fight choreography by Panna Rittikrai, who also worked on those films. The star of Chocolate is Yanin “Jeeja” Vismistananda, making her debut film performance in what is sure to be a long and successful career in action films. Hiroshi Abe and Pongpat Wachirabunjong also star.
The story: “Sin” (Som Amara), was a gang member and mistress to “No. 8” (Off Pongpat), the leader of the most powerful organized crime gang in Thailand. No. 8 discovered Sin was having an affair with Yakuza boss Masashi, and was driven out of the gang under threat of death from No. 8. Now, Sin is in the final stages of leukemia.
She has tried to leave her early life behind and now lives a simple life with her daughter, an autistic child named “Zen” (Jeeja Yanin). Sin’s only hope to live is for Zen to use her unique martial art skills to recover considerable sums of money owed to her by various elements of the underworld. Only Sin is not aware of her daughter’s natural gift, and completely unaware of her daughter trying to recover the money to help pay for Sin’s mounting hospital and drug treatment bills.
Chocolate is unique among action films because it is wrapped in this wonderfully sweet and touching story about a young autistic girl who is truly a victim of circumstances beyond her control, but who at least has been given a gift to help her fight the otherwise insurmountable odds inherited from her parents’ previous criminal life.
The star of the film is Yanin “Jeeja” Vismistananda as Zen. She was discovered by director Prachya Pinkaew in 2003 when the director was working on casting sessions for Panna Rittikrai’s directorial effort, Born to Fight. Already experienced in taekwondo, Yanin underwent more training with Panna Rittikrai’s stunt team. The script for Chocolate was then developed with Yanin in mind.
She does as great a job with straight acting as she does with the fight sequences, both of which are extremely demanding in this film. According to the trailer, there were no stunt doubles used in the film. One look at the trailer and you’ll understand the weight of this comment, especially when you see shots of Jeeja lying on the floor with a bandage over one eye or trying to capture her breath after falling several stories off the side of a building.
While its apparent they did use wire for a few sequences, the fight stunts themselves are some of the best put on film in a long time, surpassing even these filmmakers’ earlier efforts, or almost anything done by highly regarded action star and martial artist Donnie Yen. In other words, any filmgoer who loves action films will love the action scenes in Chocolate.
But this film is much more than just an action film. Zen’s story is touching, and the film offers some great comedy relief moments. More than that, there is a sense of caring among Sin, Zen, and her overweight young male friend/brother which manages to deftly transcend the standard notions of the dysfunctional family.
Chocolate was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on February 10. It really did not receive the publicity in this country that it should have, or it would have made a lot of critic’s Top Ten lists. It’s a fantastic film and definitely one to look for. Highly recommended.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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