Chocolate is an intense martial arts film directed by Prachya Pinkaew (Ong Bak with Tony Jaa) about a young autistic girl Zen whose father is a Japanese Yakuza and mother was part of a Thai gang. With her mother sick, she and her adopted brother accidentally find a list of people that owe her mother money. Not knowing that those people are part of criminal circuits, they set about collecting the money hoping to gather enough to pay for her mother’s medical bills.
Out of the plethora of martial arts films that have come out of Asia, this is one of the jewels for a number of reasons.
Although the plot isn’t revolutionary, it is very solid and is sort of a tale of Romeo and Juliet but with a focus on the child resulting from such an forbidden love. You can go into this film knowing that you’ll get a cohesive and substantial tale, which is more than could be said for most films coming out of Asia. (Disclaimer: I am watching this from an American point of view, of course.)
The characters that flesh out this story are very well psychologically and emotionally constructed. The relationships that emerge between the characters have a sincere quality to them. Happily, you don’t find them fake or forced at all for the sake of fueling the plot and moving it forward. The tale is heartwarming and wrenching at the same time.
The main character of Zen, in a debut film performance by Yanin “Jeeja” Vismistananda, is especially well developed and played out. Having had some experience myself as an therapist for autistic kids and a teacher, I was pretty convinced with Zen’s autism and that it is fairly accurate to the sort of behaviors, fixations and reactions normally seen in kids diagnosed with the condition.
Last by not least, Zen’s martial arts were so amazingly convincing. Even though she was just a little Thai girl, she was beating the thugs to a pulp. This was no small feat. I mean, I usually gag when I see some skinny-armed girl trying to play it off that her sad little punch actually knocked that big ruffian out. (You’d think they’d never heard of Linda Hamilton.) Part of how Zen’s power punch was accomplished came from Vismistananda’s very gutsy and mind-blowing stunt work. With the obsessive-compulsive, hyper-sensory body and mind aspects of Zen’s autism and an undying love for her mother, you’ve got a girl who will relentlessly dole out the hurt until mommy’s okay.
Of course, Chocolate is best viewed on Blu-ray. You definitely want to see all of Zen’s Bruce Lee meets Muy Thai boxing moves.