Ong-Bak (2003) director Prachya Pinkaew follows up his international hit with the tale of an autistic, female martial art genius addicted to chocolate. You can’t accuse him of not trying something different. A liaison between handsome yakuza Masashi (Hiroshi Abe) and Thai martial arts diva, Zin (Som Amara) angers her gangland boss, Number 8 (Pongpat Wachirabunjong) who drives a wedge between the lovers and later cripples his onetime mistress. Living in poverty as a single mother, Zin raises Zen (JeeJa Yanin), whose autism masks her Daredevil-like super-senses and amazing mimicry of martial arts styles.
When Zin develops cancer and is unable to afford medical treatment, Zen and her childhood friend Mangmoom (Taphon Phopwandel) set about collecting money from a long list of her mother’s debtors, unaware these men are violent gangsters and killers. Zen’s ferocious fighting skills see her through, but set everyone on a collision course with Number 8 and his mafia cronies.
Dedicated to “special children and the families that love them unconditionally”, Chocolate sees Pinkaew interweave a heartfelt, if sentimental drama with bone-crunching, full-contact fight scenes. As with Ong-Bak, the breathtaking martial arts sequences are essentially the whole show, since plot-wise the film is pretty old school. A series of escalating set-pieces with a faint and melodramatic, but nevertheless involving story threaded through. No stunt doubles or wire fu here folks. JeeJa Yanin is the real deal, a terrific martial artist whose highlights include an exhilarating homage to Bruce Lee’s icehouse fight from The Big Boss (1971) (where she yelps and scowls just like the dragon used to), a slapstick warehouse brawl closer in spirit to Jackie Chan (she pulls one opponent’s pants down), and a sweaty butcher’s market fight where meat cleavers keep hilariously hitting one luckless fighter.
All choreographed by Ong-Bak veteran Panna Rittikrai and quite brilliantly performed by Yanin, whom the end credit outtakes show has the bruises to prove it. Despite her relative inexperience, Yanin rises to the challenge of playing an autistic character and is a surprisingly affecting actress. Stardom surely beckons. By contrast, the supporting cast are on the whole pretty bland, although Dechawut Chuntakaro is rather amusing as angry, transvestite assassin Priscilla - a character you could only find in Thai cinema. Surprisingly little is made of Zen’s chocoholic character quirk, but Pinkaew makes interesting use of some animated flourishes to illustrate her heroic dreams.
The climax confronts Zen with an epileptic kick-boxer (Kittitat Kowahagul) every bit her equal in a hectic, herky-jerky melee before - in a sequence that evokes everything from Fist of Fury (1971) and The Street Fighter (1973), to Romeo Must Die (2000) and Kill Bill (2003) - she faces one-hundred sharp suited gangsters. It’s a staggering set-piece, high above the city streets with Yanin leaping wildly off window sills, ledges and neon billboards. A few promising plot threads are nipped in the bud to make way for more action. Had the story been stronger, this would be a modern classic instead of merely an exciting introduction to a promising young star.
Thai action director who made his debut with the hard-hitting martial arts film Ong-Bak. His follow up was the similarly themed Tom Yum Goong aka Warrior King, aka The Protector, again featuring stuntman-turned-action star Tony Jaa. He went on to a string of tries at topping his biggest hit, including Chocolate (making a star of JeeJa Yanin), Raging Phoenix, Elephant White and The Kick.