Wednesday, November 26, 2008
'Chocolate' DVD Review
From Prachya Pinkaew, director of Ong Bak and Warrior King (aka Tom Yung Goong) comes a new martial arts film with a female newcomer JeeJa Yin in the lead role.
Chocolate is the story of – when I say story I mean sequences of fight scenes put together with occasional breaks for lessons in the value of love in life – it’s the story of a Yakuza gangster and a Thai mafia moll who fall in love. The mafia Don Pong pat (the name of Bangkok’s red light district Pat Pong cleverly rearranged) is not best pleased about this romance and ensure the two are separated.
The moll, Zin, has a baby girl who turns out to be autistic. She grows up, cue montage of shots of her in various stages of development going back and forth to medical specialists and eating M&M type chocolates which she likes very much. She can throw them into her mouth very quickly and never misses. She lives with her cousin and her mother and the cousin soon exploits her talent of being able to catch any object thrown at her without looking. Anything except flies, she hates flies. Remember Raymond, Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man and how he reacted when the smoke alarm went off? Well that’s what happens when a fly buzzes near Zen.
Mum gets sick and seeing as Thailand has no NHS she needs money to pay for her medical bills. The fat sidekick cousin finds her mafia-days debt book and takes Zen with him to collect. Zen has learnt martial arts through osmosis – they live next to a muay thai gaym, she watches Tony Jaa and Bruce Lee films and plays fighting games on the Playstaion.
The debtors laugh at a skinny girl and fat boy trying to collect debts. Zen gets mad. You won’t like her when she gets mad. Cue the fight scenes. Yes! During which you spend the whole time going – but how she’s a slip of a girl, can’t see any muscle, but oooh that kick to the back of the neck looked painful.
No wires, no CGI, all real action has been the slogan for previous Pinkaew films and this is no exception. My favourite fight scene took place in a butcher’s warehouse with meat carcasses hanging everywhere (Zen had to overcome her fear of flies here), cleavers and meat hooks a plenty. It reminded me of the Sammo Hung film Magnificent Butcher.
JeeJa Yin trained for 2 years before filming even began for Chocolate. Pinkaew knew he wanted to make a film about autistic children and martial arts with a female lead. He found JeeJa Yin and her two year training began even before there was a script. Then the film itself took 2 years to complete.
The characters are well drawn, especially the Thai mafia boss PongPat and his lady boy side kick who look like they are wearing clothes borrowed from Miami Vice and Pat Butcher. Some lovely leopard print chiffon blouses and snakeskin loafers sported.
JaeeJa Yin’s power lies in her apparent frailty. Cute but not beautiful, androgynous, awkward, skinny and unremarkable - an unlikely action hero who surprises you with her fighting power. She topples men twice her size with muay thai style kicks. And fierce looking gangster girls and lady boys too. Dressed like a scruffy street urchin in patchwork clothes her ‘schoolgirl’ look is not played up to – refreshingly so. Her femininity is not highlighted, as we have seen before with other teen female martial arts characters (such as the schoolgirl GoGo Yaburi in Kill Bill).
Autism is fairly delicately handled in the film. Except for during the final fight scene – set in a Japanese tea house in Bruce Lee homage by the way – when a young autistic counterpart fighter who looks like a 1980s break dancer in his Adidas tracksuit is brought out to fight JeeJa. Where did he spring from? This was a bit strange and unnecessary. Apart from this it was handled well.
As usual, don’t switch off when the credits start to roll – all the bloopers are here. The ooh, that’s gotta hurt bits where we see that the actors really were hurt in the making of the film. One guy even gets hospitalised! Thai hospital food looks alright though, rice, meat, veg and chilli sauce on the side. Mmm.
Talking of food I’ve been trying to think up a better title to the film than Chocolate which does seem a bit odd. But then perhaps it’s supposed to reflect the unassuming nature of Zen – she’s not what she appears to be.
I definitely recommend Chocolate. Out now to buy on DVD.