| by Allan Stackhouse |
It's needless to say that Tony Jaa was amazing in Ong Bak. He brought to the world the marvel of flying knee kicks to the face. What does need to be said is how superb Chocolate was. Ong Bak martial arts choreographer Panna Rittikrai and director Pracha Pinkyaew have made another marvel of a film featuring Thai martial arts at its finest. You would think that with Ong Bak behind it, the film would have a significantly boosted popularity but it's only an underground hit, at least within my circles of friends.
What makes Chocolate immediately interesting is Zen, the main character. She's an adolescent girl with autism. By looks, she is just your average 13 year old girl but no, she's a martial arts powerhouse who doesn't hesitate to kick gangsters in the face and elbow assassins on the back of the head. With all the American bad ass chicks, they have the height and musculature of someone who could easily take on a man: Lucy Lawless' Xena, Jennifer Garner's Sidney Bristow on Alias, and Uma Thurman's The Bride in Kill Bill. JeeJa Yanin is not as young as Chloe Moretz's Hit Girl from Kick Ass but she is strictly a hand to hand fighter, beautiful as watching her purple-leatherdness shoot people in the face.
One of the most amazing scenes I've seen in the history of martial arts films was the breakdance fighter in Chocolate. At one of the final scenes of the film, we see him twitching a bit, similarly to Zen's behavior. This is one of the first fighters that poses a true challenge to Zen. After taking some nice knocks, a special part of her brain makes her stop and adapt to his movements to eventually best him. Her consistently unexpected improvisations in fight scenes without the use of wires were fun to watch and a great tool for the filmmakers to portray her determination especially since she has so few lines within the film.
One of the best contrasts to Ong Bak was the lack of repetitive shots and repetitive moves. There's almost nothing worse for me than seeing the same exact moves in a martial arts or action movie. A contest of who can punch the other the hardest and longest across different sets is simply not interesting to me, which is unfortunately what a large amount of classic American action movies end up being. Ong Bak literally took the same shot and would either repeat it or show it from a different angle, sometimes angles. I found this completely unnecessary and amateurish, taking me out of the film when I was repeatedly forgiving a lot of the story. Rittikrai and Pinkyaew somehow managed to read my mind and grow significantly as filmmakers, learning from previous mistakes.
The level of violence was also taken to new heights. Whereas a large majority of violent films will rely on fake blood and pulled punches, the stunt people in this film looked like they were actually having the crap beat out of them. In fact, during the credits, footage of injured cast is explicitly shown. JeeJa was frequently kicked or hit in the face during filming. And the poor stuntmen! These poor guys were dropped from three story buildings but the less straight forward falling looked incredibly painful.
Also unlike Ong Bak, I found the story to be quite interesting. It had elements of some classic stories: Romeo and Juliet's forbidden love, Rain Man's likable special needs, and Enter the Dragon's multiple levels of villains. Each element is also executed well. After seeing this bad ass samurai assassin in the first few minutes drop out of the film leaves us dying for him to come back. When he does, it's awesome. In an amazing scene, a group of sword wielding assassins charges at him and he pulls out a gun and shoots at them until his clip runs out. Then, he draws his own sword and goes to town.
Chocolate, if you haven't already got the impression yet, is definitely a film you should check out if you like martial arts or action films. The high quality of fight scenes are simply nonexistent in any other movie I've seen. Instead of feeling obligated to return to some half baked narrative, the film successfully navigates a cohesive -- although not very deep -- story line while capturing simply brilliant martial arts. I would love for word of this film to get around for the sake of more films like it to at least be around for me to choose besides the garbage that passes for a direct-to-DVD movie at Blockbuster.