Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Chocolate" (2008)

Starring Yanin Vismistanada, Ammara Siripong and Taphon Phopwandee
Written by Chookiat Sakveerakul
Directed by Prachya Pinkaew
Rated R - Violence
Running Time: 92 minutes

ChocolateHere's an intriguing premise for a film: A young autistic girl named Zen (Yanin Vismistanada) learns Muay Thai by watching and mimicking the moves she sees performed by students at the school next to her house... and movies she sees on TV. 

When her mother, Zin (Ammara Siripong) falls ill with cancer, her friend Moom (Taphon Phopwandee) convinces her to help him collect on Zin's old debts to pay for medication.  Unfortunately, what Zen and Moom don't know is that Zin's past is a dangerous one to be digging up.  Zin used to be a girlfriend and enforcer of a local mobster No. 8 (Pongpat Wachirbunjong) until she fell in love with a rival Yakuza boss Musashi (Hiroshi Abe).  After a bloody fight, Musashi was banished back to Japan, but Zin was forced to stay and raise her child alone under the ever-watchful eye of No. 8's enforcers.

Raising Zen alone was very difficult for Zin, but she made do - rewarding her daughter with chocolate candy when she did well.  After moving in next to a Muay Thai school, Zen begins to mimic the moves she sees perfectly.  Zin sees Moom being bullied one day and takes him in, essentially raising Zen and Moom as brother and sister, though Moom calls Zin 'auntie'. 

When No. 8 gets wind that his men are being shaken down for Zin's old debts, he sends his enforcers after Zin and sets up a final confrontation with Musashi. 

I think it'd be interesting to see "Chocolate" remade by someone interested in telling a story rather than just presenting an endless series of fight sequences for the heroine, because, frankly, this premise seems wasted here.  "Chocolate" is short, barely running 80 minutes or so without counting credits and outtakes at the end.  And the final climactic fight takes forever.  Zen and Musashi cut their way through a seemingly limitless number of anonymous thugs before the fight finally goes outside... and then continues on for what seems like another ten minutes.  The third act of the film is dominated by this ongoing action sequence, which is commendable, except that I simply grew tired of it after a while.

In general, the fights in "Chocolate" are great.  Vismistanada, already an expert at Taekwondo before undergoing further training for this film, handles the martial arts moves and stunts quite well, believably plowing through scores of enemies, some of whom are dispatched in quite painful ways (especially in the butcher shop scene).  Aside from the ending going on way too long, the action in "Chocolate" is impressive and entertaining.

It's just too bad that the story and character development seem so slight for such an inspired premise.  There's a lot more drama to be mined out of the idea of an autistic martial arts expert, I think.