Chocolate (2008) – By Cary Conley

Prachya Pinkaew has produced a couple of dozen films in his native Thailand,  but he has only directed a handful himself; however, judging by the quality of the few he has directed, he is a force to be reckoned with.  First exploding on the international screens with Ong-bak:  Thai Warrior, he followed that film with another Tony Jaa fight-fest called The Protector here in America.  Both films were action-packed and just plain fun.  Both films staged some spectacular fight scenes and stuntwork and both films had some low-brow humor in them, begging a comparison with early Jackie Chan work.

Now comes Chocolate (AKA Fury or Chocolate Fury), Pinkaew’s latest martial arts actioner.  Far from trying to hide his influences, Chocolate was intended to be a direct homage to both Jackie Chan as well as Bruce Lee.  Unfortunately, due to licensing problems, this wouldn’t come to pass, but the film is still a spectacular and eye-popping martial arts flick.

Zin is a woman who is involved both romantically and through business with the Chinese mafia in Thailand, primarily as a money collector for her powerful loan shark boyfriend.  They cut an uneasy truce with the Japanese Yakuza, but when Zin falls in love with one of the Japanese gang members, she is relentlessly pursued by her former boss/boyfriend.  Living  in hiding, eventually Zin and her Japanese lover have a child who is born autistic.  But the Chinese mafia has a long memory and track her new family down.  Her ex cuts a deal with her:  her Japanese boyfriend must leave the country, never to return, and she must leave the business.  As long as these rules are followed, she and her daughter will be left alone.

All goes relatively smoothly over the ensuing years.  Her daughter, Zen, grows up eating her favorite candy chocolates (hence the title of the movie) and watching old kung-fu videos.  Much like many autistic children, Zen has some idiosyncrasies.  She hates the buzzing of flies and it sets her off into a terror-induced fit.  But she also is lightning-quick and has the ability to imitate any martial arts move she sees on television.  Mother and daughter live together peacefully with a street kid they take in named Moom.  Moom and Zen develop a martial arts routine they perform every day in the streets in order to make money so the little family can survive.  But when mother Zin gets cancer and the bills start rolling in, the money the two teens bring in isn’t enough.

One day Moom discovers Zin’s little black book with all her debtors listed.  Taking Zen with him, the two try to collect the debts, but they are met with ridicule–that is until the men make the mistake of attacking Zen, who beats them to a pulp.  The two continue to wreak havoc amongst the businesses until word gets back to the Chinese mafia that Zin is operating again, which brings the full power of the mafia down on the family.  Will they survive the mafia?  Can the two kids collect enough money to save Zin?  You just have to watch the film to find out.

As I said before, this film is an absolute out-and-out fight-fest that is also a riot to watch.  The stunts are jaw-dropping and there is a perfect balance of humor blended in.  As Zen discovers her new-found ability to fight, she imitates exactly what she sees and hears on the television, so not only does she have the moves, but she also imitates the sounds the characters make on the screen.  So she not only pounds people into the ground, but in an eye-wink to the audience–who also, as Pinkaew knows, grew up on cheap kung-fu flicks–Zen makes hilarious, high-pitched kung-fu sounds along with her moves:  "heeeeee-yaaaaaa"; "aaaiiiiiiiii-eeeeeewwwwww!"  If you’ve ever seen any film with the word "Shaolin" in it, or if you’ve ever seen a kung-fu film from Shaw Brothers, then you will watch these early fight sequences with a smile on your face.

In another hilarious scene, the two kids go to collect money from an outdoor butcher shop.  Of course, the flies are buzzing everywhere, causing Zen to freak.  Later Zen goes back with a snorkeling mask on her face to keep the flies away.  Seeing her standing with the mask on in this bloody, gritty, seedy butcher shop communicates just how naive and childlike Zen is, although she is also a deadly killer.  Very funny stuff.

Pinkaew also does a terrific job of ensuring that the film never comes across as exploitative of physically or mentally handicapped people, which I would imagine was tough to do.  The film begins with a dedication to all the "special" kids in Thailand and the message, while not very overt, is that even handicapped people can succeed in life and have contributions to make.

I haven’t seen this one in stores, but it is on Netflix.  You do not want to miss this film.  It is highly entertaining and a terribly fun and fantastic ride.  A big thanks to Duane for recommending this one to me!