TIFF Review: CHOCOLATE

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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A word of advice: try and approach Ong Bak director Prachya Pinkaew’s Chocolate - his new martial arts film starring female lead “Jeeja” Vismistananda – as pure spectacle. On that level it is truly astounding. Go in expecting significant plot and character work, however, and you’ll walk away disappointed. The lessons dictated by the narrative weakness of Pinkaew’s Tom Yum Goong AKA The Protector have clearly not been learned. Vismistananda, however, is an immediate physical marvel, a sure fire international action star of the highest order.

Vismistananda plays Zen, the autistic daughter of a Tai woman and Japanese gangster. Her father driven out of the country by a rival gang leader, Zen has been left in the care of her mother, a woman who has tried her best to put aside her criminal past to give her all to supporting her handicapped daughter. It is clear early that like a small percentage of autistic children, Zen is something of a savant. While most autistic savant’s skills lie in the world of math, Zen’s are more physical talents: she has an extremely developed sense of muscle memory. Once she sees something enacted before her she is able to mimic that action flawlessly. And, living next to a martial arts dojo with kung fu and muay thai films – Pinkaew shamelessly intercutting footage from his earlier, Tony Jaa starring efforts – playing constantly on the television, Zen has lots to learn.

Theirs is a quiet life, a simple one even, until Zen’s mother is diagnosed with cancer and needs expensive chemotherapy treatments, treatments they have no hope of paying until a long hidden book detailing old mob debts is discovered and Zen sets out on a violent mission to reclaim those debts in support of her poor sick mother. Throw in a gang of rather unattractive transsexuals and a very underused Hiroshi Abe as Zen’s yakuza father and you have the nuts and bolts of the film.

Weaknesses? Yes, there are several. The plot is wafer thin, character development virtually non-existent. The film lacks significant featured fighters for Zen to square off against and, as such, tends towards simple line-em-up, knock-em-down fights that can get repetitive quickly. And, on a technical end, it dramatically over does the film speed manipulation in obvious and unnecessary ways, I spotted a pair of visible wires and a number of ‘pucker’ marks on clothes where the wire rigs connected, and the fights are occasionally over edited.

Strengths? Vismistananda herself is astounding – making the film speed up much more perplexing – and once the action begins it is absolutely unrelenting. The final fight scene alone – a one versus thirty or so affair that scales the outer ledges and neon signs of a multi story building and sent at least one stunt man to hospital – is absolutely jaw dropping, an instant classic in the martial arts world and one which is, all on its own, more than worth the price of admission.

Do I enjoy Chocolate for what it is? Absolutely. Do I wish it were also just a little bit more? Damn straight. One of these days Pinkaew is going to realize that good script is just as important as a skilled performer to make lasting work, even in the martial arts world, and when that day comes he is going to make an absolute classic but that day has not yet arrived.

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More about Chocolate

SwarezFebruary 11, 2008 4:37 PM

Is this as bad as Tom Yum Goong? For me that was like watching a porn film, fast forwarding through the boring "plot" to get to the good stuff.

NovastarFebruary 11, 2008 8:13 PM

Every time i will fast forward on this one,i will eat a piece of chocolate,so i won't loose the connection with this movie.

anton_esFebruary 11, 2008 10:11 PM

give me a martial arts movie with money shots only, i can edit in the talking myself :)

Todd BrownFebruary 11, 2008 11:14 PM

Swarez: definitely. And what TYG has that this doesn't is a number of other quality feature fighters.

BtoFuFebruary 11, 2008 11:23 PM

Yeah I figured it would be yet another case of buying the non-english friendly Thai disc and hitting FF to get to the meat of it. Still a shame for sure but we know why we want to see it I suppose.

Al YoungFebruary 12, 2008 3:44 AM

By now, I should already know to approach Chocolate as a spectacle after watching TYG. I had a feeling the problems in the fight scenes of TYG will repeat itself here again. In group fights, I would like to see Panna Rittikrai take a page from Hong Kong schoolbook of fight choreography and incorporate the multiple "juggling effect" rather than breaking down the group fight into a convenient one on one fight, string with the next one on one fight until everyone is finished. While some of the creative fighting techniques Panna come up with looks cool, there are some counter/attack that seems telegraphically obvious with the way the stuntmen is setting themselves up to take the over the top knockdown. I do enjoy seeing the hero beats the bad guys in a dramatic fashion but I also want to see the bad guys offer any sort of resistance and also have a worthy adversary who can legitimately put the hero at risk of losing, not just a non-threating tomato can who gets treated as a afterthought. When the stakes are raise and the danger is close, the better the excitement.

ChevalierAguilaFebruary 12, 2008 12:25 PM

The question is, why hasn't Hong Kong offered something to Jaa, and already to this girl? Cinematic pride or just the language barrier? I would love to see any of the two working with people like Lau Kar Leung, Wu Jing, Donnie Yen and the likes.

Someone somewhere must do an all-star martial arts movie fusion, and i mean one done well, not "Forbiden Kingdom" way.

Todd BrownFebruary 12, 2008 5:08 PM

Hong Kong has offered stuff to Jaa, he's passed on it so far because he's so big on promoting Thai culture and really committed to directing Ong Bak 2 himself. I'm sure it'll happen before too long, though.

jo3ySeptember 6, 2008 3:37 PM

Seen this.

its good. dont be skeptical - go watch it!

superficial mother - daughter relationship it is. though at least they are trying to create something different with the story (how many autistc girl vs tourettes boy fights do you get? how many films have a jap vs thai gangster turf war as a romeo and juliette backdrop, resulting in an introverted offspring that, like St Kit in Heroes, soaks up all the fighting she sees on TV?)

The fight scenes are awesome, with only 1 instance of (yeah yeah, got on with it).

Go on Todd- do a Twitch o Meter with female kick ass leading stars and if twitch readers name many recent films where there are genuine female fighting skill involved, as opposed to putting a sword wielding babe on the dvd cover, then for sure I'd like to watch them!

Chocolate gets a firm jo3y thumbs up.

ChevalierAguilaSeptember 6, 2008 5:27 PM

Already seen this, so-so at best, the girl is not as fast as the trailer will lead you to believe. Still, respect for all the things she had to go trough filming. But she has potential neverless, she just needs more training, and of course, a better movie.

eDWeiRDSeptember 6, 2008 7:13 PM

I loved this film.

MavisFanSeptember 6, 2008 11:39 PM

I agree, very entertaining. I went into this film for Jeeja skills and anything else would of been a added bonus. I'll certainly will be using the chapter selection to revisit some of the fight scenes. I hope to see jeeja in the future with more character development and emotion.

What this world needs is more female heroines like Jeeja and Chocolate delivers.

Todd BrownSeptember 7, 2008 7:55 AM

jo3y: go see Fighter if you haven't already. Girl's an awesome fighter, also a very good actress and the story's got a lot of depth to it. Great movie on all levels.