Saturday, March 12, 2011


Chocolate is a very good but rather off-kilter martial arts movie. The hero, Zen, is a 14 year old autistic girl with an uncanny ability to instantly learn martial arts simply by watching. Zen kicks ass to collect money owed to the family so she can pay for her mother's chemotherapy. Meanwhile the mother's ex, a possessive gang lord served by a posse of armed and dangerous transsexuals, is trying to keep her from reconnecting with Zen's father. I'm totally not kidding; that really is the plot.

The set-up of this bizarre plot takes the first 20-30 minutes of the movie but, fear not, what's not off-kilter about this movie are the fight scenes. They absolutely rock! When star Yanin Vismitananda gets going, she displays definite skills. She's not as sharp as Tony Jaa or Jet Li or their kind, but she more than delivers. And once the action starts, the fight scenes come fast and furious. There's even a bit of ick factor thrown in for extra giggles. And despite the fact that I usually find guns disruptive in martial arts films, I felt they actually add to the action here rather than detract.

I saw a review for Chocolate on Amazon that suggested this movie is a good test of who's really into the genre. The plot for the movie admittedly requires substantial suspension of disbelief if you're going to swallow it (I mean, really???). However, while I feel an inventive plot can be a plus in the genre, the main reason these movies exist is for the martial arts skills being displayed. So if you watch Chocolate and spend your whole review complaining about the weirdness of the plot or the lack of acting chops or the minimal plot development, then you clearly shouldn't even be watching the movie to begin with.

Of course, the premise means that there's very little of the martial arts spirit to be found in Chocolate. That's a loss, but what we ultimately have here is a very well-made martial arts movie full of off-beat elements that set it apart. For example, to cap off the big fight scene inside the restaurant near the finale, Zen faces off against another 'special needs' martial arts prodigy. As I write this, I am fully aware of how totally ridiculous this sounds, but it worked! I recommend this movie.

On a random note, this is the second movie directed by Prachya Pinkaew that makes prominent use of transsexuals as total bad asses (see The Protector). It's certainly interesting to see transsexuals playing characters like this, especially as the movie presents them as if there is no need to explain their presence. I like that, but I still wonder about their prominent presence. Are drag queens and such just more accepted in Thai culture than in the US? I saw other reviews of the movie where the reviewer didn't object to the violence in the movie, but seemed to be wigged out by the transsexuals. This made me laugh. I mean, don't be a wussy. What's the big deal?

PS: All the reviewers on Amazon are touting the 'making of' extra, so I'm going to watch that right now.

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