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Chocolate on blu-ray

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cast: Jeeja Yanin, Hiroshi Abe, Pongpat Wachirabunjong, Ammara Siriphong, and Taphon Phopwandee

director: Prachya Pinkaew

89 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Showbox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
In the series two finale of Not Going Out, one character stutters at the opening of an envelope as their might by something 'scary' within its fold. His companion responds: "Don't worry! They can't put hard work and commitment in an envelope!" It has become increasingly difficult to sell genuine wonder, what with distractions almighty. In an earlier decade, Thai stunt fighting and le parkour would have become distinct phenomena, but today such daring activities have to play second fiddle to a boy saying "I like turtles!" or some bint in her new bikini.

There has always been nepotism, 'wives and girlfriends' and the right place right timers but today the 'famous for being famous' crowd rule and everyone wants in. More talent-less celebrities means that there is more for the general audience to identify with and less motivation for them to work towards their five minutes of fame. Of course, not putting in the work means that they won't even make it to the five minutes. Unfortunately, it also means that any display of real talent is a turn-off, what if the average Janet and John have to really strive again... oh no, much simply if middling abilities dominate... that we can match!

I support Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing On Ice as I believe in TV shows that force celebrities to prove they have at least one ability or talent. Entire populations have been encouraged that there is wealth and fame in doing nothing. Musical talent shows demand the mediocre. John Sargeant had to leave Strictly Come Dancing because the voting audience were making a mockery of the efforts and ambitions of anyone who wants to put in that effort and achieve all aims. We live in a selfish and jealous age where most people are concerned only in their own minor accomplishments. No one appreciates real talent and graft anymore.

Prachya Pinkaew's Chocolate was four years in the making, two years of that in the shooting of the complicated and perilous set-ups. The other two years were spent in preparation. It all shows in the end results. The film runs 89 minutes and as it reaches the closing credits one double-takes in quantification of the content. Did they really cram all that in? Not a second is wasted. The programme is inundated with images, details and actions. There is a comparatively slow start as the film forces us to move chronologically with it; to meet the parents. The acrobatics will have to wait. Gangster's moll Zin (Ammara Siriphong) is romantically embroiled with a yakuza named Masashi (Hiroshi Abe), an affair that brings the wrath of Thai gang boss Number 8 (Pongpat Wachirabunjong). Masashi is shipped back to Japan and Zin retreats to a safe-house having found herself pregnant with Masashi's child. A severely autistic girl is born and Number 8 comes to collect but, observing the child's condition, his revenge is reduced to the removal of Zin's big toe. The chopping off of the digit replicates the self-mutilation perpetrated on his own foot with a bullet through the shoe to curtail his own rage.

The girl, Zen, is socially excluded but while mentally truncated, as is often the case, it frees her up to other giftedness. She finds herself able to mimic the movements of others and as her porch overlooks a martial arts school and the television runs plenty of old school kung fu that is what she finds herself naturally reproducing. Not having the training equipment she observes others to be using she makes do with inappropriate and ad hoc equipage in the surrounding furniture and architecture, unsuitable material that toughens her all the more. Jeeja Yanin takes over as Zen reaches teenage years. She has only one friend, Moon (Taphon Phopwandee), an overweight boy who identifies certain skills in Zen that he can exploit to make money. His ends are noble though as Zin needs treatment for cancer and their 'catch circus' act in the streets funds those stays in hospital.

More money is needed and when a ledger turns up amongst Zin's belongings they calculate that money is owed to her (whether this is correct or not) and Moon and Zen go to collect it. The first stop is an ice factory and their refusal to pay up turns into a fight that reveals Zen's remarkable martial arts skills. The money 'owed' by a variety of businesses provides her with a succession of fantastic backdrops and numerous obstacles to out-manoeuvre and paraphernalia to avoid as they become weapons against her. It brings to mind the stunt fight work in 1980s' Jackie Chan films, particularly the Police Story series and Project A. Jeeja's background brings similar comparisons so that she is closer to Chan than she is to Tony Jaa, Pinkaew's previous discovery in Ong-Bak, and the actor to which Jeeja has been more readily compared.

Chocolate is stylistically superior to Ong-Bak, a statement some might take against but it is perhaps better not to compare and accept the two as different films. Early worries about the remedial level dialogue and the buoyancy of the camera during the ice-factory fight are dismissible in the wake of the following entertaining mass absurdity, excitement, eccentricity and outrageousness. The fight scenes build throughout the film growing longer and more impressive. A meat factory fight is Grand Guignol, abuzz with bluebottles, with cleavers and knives flying, butchers unbalanced and caught by the skin of their arms on sky hooks. If an autistic fighter is seen as bad taste then be warned as there is more. The Thai gang seems to be largely populated by transgender gunslingers and one of her later adversaries is a boy with a form of Tourette's syndrome or epilepsy that one might label the twitch-fu kid. The film is deliriously berserk and if not astounding you with the fighting will find one of a thousand other ways to drop your jaw.

Jeeja is remarkable and the film is impressive. There is plentiful supporting material and keen attention is made time and again to the accidents, painful falls and some mild looking kicks in the face or cracks on the head which were clearly far more painful than they appear. Complete run-throughs on some of the fights in rehearsal sometimes look better than they do in the film as the camera is at least fixed on the action, though in this I chiefly make the critical comparison to the first major fight during which the camera work is more purposefully jitter-some. Deleted scenes hint at what would have been a much longer but less effective film including one potentially unsavoury moment as one wealthy slime-ball mistakes Zen for an underage trick in a sequence the film is better off without. The raw footage provides an idea of the considerable post-production work as in the finished film the hues are deepened and backdrops obtain new details and wirework is removed. None of this should put into question the danger and the magnitude of the endeavour. Chocolate is fun piled upon fun... get a load of it, do!

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