This film could never be made in the West. An autistic action martial arts movie? Two autistic kids going Bruce Lee on each other? Outrageous. But this is a Thai movie so sensibilities are different and quite frankly, why not?
Prachya Pinkaew and Panna Rittikrai (director and fight choreographer of ‘Ong-Bak’ respectively) stated that they were looking for a female ‘Tony Jaa’. If you now have no idea what I’m on about and like action movies, specifically martial arts action movies, then rent ‘Ong-Bak’. (Or catch the sequel – out soon). It was great! And a new direction for martial arts movies and stunts.
So, the director, having found 18 year old Jeeja Yanin (a Taekwando teacher), spent 2 years getting her trained in various martial arts disciplines and gymnastics then another 2 years in preparation and actual filming to produce ‘Chocolate’ – a film vehicle purpose built around Ms Yanin’s superb fighting skills. And she has a natural acting talent to boot. But what makes her unusual, apart from her style, is that she’s so, erm, delicate. You’d think she was going to break in two as she takes out 40 henchmen.
So in ‘Chocolate’, Jeeja plays the autistic daughter of a woman who was once a gangster. Her mother now has cancer, and desperately needs money for treatment, so Jeeja and her best friend go off to collect the money owed to her Mum from assorted businesses and criminals. Jeeja, being special, has heightened senses and a talent for picking up fighting moves from movies, games and the martial arts school next door – pretty handy when people don’t want to pay up.
Storywise the film is a bit clumsy and feels really artificial, especially the first 10 minutes, lift style pop music is also sprinkled across the soundtrack which doesn’t help – so hang in there. Once Jeejaa Yanin gets to strut her stuff we’re in for some great sequences. My favourite being the ‘Fighting on the Street Signs’ sequence at the end. Well worth checking out – it’s on DVD in several countries and has a small theatrical run in the USA in 2009.
I look forward to her next movie and hope the story and fight sequences are meshed together to create a more satisfying whole, and if we’re lucky, a classic. She deserves it.