Following the international action hits Ong Bak and Warrior King, another martial arts film directed by Prachya Pinkaew was released in 2008. The Thai director who polished the big screen skills of Tony Jaa decided to do the same for his so-called female counterpart Taekwondo and Muay Thai expert Jeeja Janin.
The story revolves around Zen (Jeeja Janin), a young autistic lady who learned martial arts from merely watching fight scenes of popular Asian martial artists such as Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and even Tony Jaa. She used her self-taught skills to generate income and to collect debts for her mother, to pay for her medical bills, through fighting with a professional network of criminals.
Zen’s martial arts skill was put to use little by little when a friend of hers named Mangmoom convinced her to collect debt from her mother’s ex-comrades in the gangster world. As Zen unfolded her mother’s past in front of her, she became accustomed once again to her mother’s pals and rivals as well. After all those years, some of them still have hard feelings about her mother’s decision on marrying a Japanese yakuza.
Chocolate brought the 60s-70s martial arts movie feel back by the use of somewhat disabled or not physically normal protagonists who managed to revolutionize their weaknesses into one hell lot of strength. As an autistic lead character, Zen’s attention was locked into doing repetitive actions which sparked her interest in martial arts. She was too engrossed that she practiced and trained hard after watching her idols on screen.
With the success of Ong Bak, viewers unsurprisingly set high expectations for the next martial arts film by Pinkaew. Good thing, he did not fail the expectations of fans on Chocolate by delivering almost the same type of fight scenes wherein less recognizable doubles and no cheap animations were utilized to complete the movie. Moreover, the chops, punches and kicks delivered looked very realistic that it made the moviegoers feel the pain and excitement during the acts. Although Tony Jaa just seems to make them look so much better! Jeeja is very talented but her moves although gracefully portrayed just seem to lack the ferocity of Tony’s, maybe due to the fact that they are not as quick?
Everything was flawlessly choreographed, with an overall impact of truly convincing and amusing effect on the audience. One scene that blew the mind of the fans was the breath taking combat around the sides of the building, which was also considered as one of the finest for the past few years.
Though most of the scenes literally looked very much impossible in real life, Pinkaew succeeded to persuade the people to admire the strength of an autistic fighter including Zen’s capabilities to handle goons who carry lethal weapons such as knives and guns. Different locations were utilized for scenarios such as the use of a butcher shop, which seems to be another unique thing on Chocolate.
Pinkaew applied the real life struggles of autistic individuals in the movie such as the sensitivity of the five senses. Since the sensitivity of senses comprised majority of Zen’s weakness, an enemy on the movie cleverly used techniques to distract her. Zen, on the other hand, taught quickly of mimicking the opponent’s moves instead to disable him from performing his trick.
Despite the overwhelming praises received by Chocolate, there were still some people who claimed to dislike the movie due to the dramatic scenes of Zen’s family life in the movie. These people regarded Chocolate as a lengthy story with lots of potentials comprised in a single movie. For them, it would be better if it was played on the local TV series instead in order to appreciate more the creativity and action stunts throughout the film. Undoubtedly true, fans claimed that Pinkaew was a bit lax on developing the personalities of the supporting characters. Nevertheless, a big improvement was observed in roles compared to the previous movies he did with Tony Jaa.
Movie critics, however, still saw Yanin’s flaws on the big screen as she focused on using her legs in combat more than her arms or hands. Even though her flawless Taekwondo skills were highlighted throughout the movie and delivered gracefully with the right form, the impact of her kicks were underrated compared to that of Yukari Oshima, a famous Hong Kong and Filipino martial artist movie star.
All in all, Prachya Pinkaew contributed big in terms of improving the level of Thai martial arts features since he directed Ong Bak. Recommendations for his future work included the involvement of more skilful writers to complement the exceptional fight scenes and the story behind each character. Chocolate is still a must-watch film for martial arts fans if you plan to watch the debut of an emerging action superstar and director.