'Chocolate' Bomb: Autistic Hero's Sweet Revenge

Jeeja Yanin i i

Everything Zen: A Bangkok Muay Thai prodigy (Jeeja Yanin) settles family scores after her mother falls ill. Magnolia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Magnolia Pictures
Jeeja Yanin

Everything Zen: A Bangkok Muay Thai prodigy (Jeeja Yanin) settles family scores after her mother falls ill.

Magnolia Pictures

Chocolate

  • Director: Prachya Pinkaew
  • Genre: Action
  • Running Time: 110 minutes

Rated R for violence throughout, and brief sexuality/nudity.

Jeeja Yanin i i

Kickoff: Feet of fury fly in Chocolate. Magnolia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Magnolia Pictures
Jeeja Yanin

Kickoff: Feet of fury fly in Chocolate.

Magnolia Pictures

Boasting one of the wildest premises in the history of hand-to-hand combat flicks, Chocolate is about an autistic teenage girl with a genius for kickboxing. The setup probably won't please autism activists — but for what it's worth, the resulting mayhem is as entertaining as it is insensitive.

The latest movie by Thai director Prachya Pinkaew, Chocolate shows considerable growth from 2003's Ong-Bak, his first U.S. release.

The new film is better written, paced and acted, as well as more artfully composed — not that any of those virtues is essential in a movie that takes many of its cues from Jackie Chan's phenomenally gymnastic early pictures.

The heroine, Zen, is the child of tough Bangkok babe Zin (Ammara Siripong) and tender Japanese gangster Masashi (Hiroshi Abe). Their relationship is controversial, so when Zin gets pregnant, she sends Masashi back to Fukuoka for safety. Masashi doesn't know anything about his daughter, from her diagnosis as autistic to her growing skill at Muay Thai, Thailand's equivalent of kung fu.

Aside from her mother, Zen loves only her friend Mangmoom — a pudgy, effeminate boy — and M&M-like chocolates (though the latter play a smaller role than the movie's title suggests.) When Zen hits 15 (played by 24-year-old Jeeja Yanin), the kids become street performers. Zen's speed, dexterity and hand-eye coordination dazzle the crowds, while Mangmoom (Taphon Phopwandee) handles the money.

This operation goes big-time when Zen's mother begins cancer treatments she can't afford. Mangmoom finds an account book of debts that Zin, having left the underworld, never collected. He and Zen make the rounds, paying for mom's chemotherapy by settling old scores.

No one wants to pay, of course, but after Zen defeats dozens of thugs, cash flow improves. Zen and Mangmoom invariably locate debtors in large, cluttered industrial locations — including an ice plant and a meat-packing operation — that are ideally laid out for extended fight scenes.

Zen's opponents are equally striking: There's a quartet of pistol-packing transvestites and a teenage Muay Thai adept whose moves are gnarled by epilepsy. Ultimately, Zen faces her arch-nemesis and his goons in a dynamic, inventive 20-minute sequence that hops from a roof to an elevated-train structure to a series of signs towering multiple stories above the street.

Yanin moves like a killer ballerina, and unlike most action stars she doesn't have to worry about delivering lines; playing an autistic hero, it must be said, can have its advantages.

And this isn't Hollywood-style action, with machine-gun editing substituting for athleticism. The fight scenes are done Chan-style, with infrequent cuts and elaborate, often witty choreography. Pinkaew even runs outtakes under the credits, as Chan often does, to prove the stunts were for real — although these bloopers include more first-aid treatments than pratfalls.

The opening and closing narration attempts to give the film a poetic aura, invoking Japan as a place of more subtle feelings than Thailand. Maybe so, but Chocolate's appeal isn't subtle; the movie moves with unusual grace, but it drips blood and adrenaline.

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