Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Starring: Jeeja Yanin, Ammara Siripong, Hiroshi Abe
When Japanese yakuza Masashi (Hiroshi Abe) falls for Zin (Ammara Siripong), the former lover of Thai gangster No. 8 ( Pongpat Wachirabunjong), they enjoy a passionate encounter. However, when 8 discovers her intention to follow Masashi to Japan, he uses his gang’s ways to keep the two apart. Grudgingly, the two are separated. Years later, Zin gives birth to Zin (Jeeja Yanin), an autistic child with fantastic reflexes and the ability to mimic martial arts, particularly from her television or from the neighboring Muay Thai academy. When Zin falls ill from cancer, it is up to Zen to collect enough money for treatment by calling in favors for the former gangster accessory. Problem is, these folks don’t think they need to pay up to a little girl who can’t enforce anything, or so they think. As her martial arts skills become evident, Zen fights her way through numerous appointments, eventually drawing the attention of No. 8 himself, and setting into motion a showdown years in the making.
Marketed as the ‘female Tony Jaa,’ Yanin had a huge shadow to overcome and perhaps it is unfair to truly compare the two. Jeeja’s flexibility and technique are pretty solid and it is a very good feeling to see a truly skilled female fighter on screen again. While she does not necessarily sell power on every hit, it is forgivable considering this is her first picture. Her acting is actually better than Tony’s first outing, and while that may not be saying much, she is generally captivating when in frame. Siripong is good as the mother, she’s vulnerable but strong and man has her character had a tough life. Abe is typically good as well, though he has very few lines and they consist of mostly Japanese. He does handle his fight scene well, and it is easy to see his physical presence over the much smaller Thai actors. The rest of the cast is okay, though they really are just there to get hurt in some way or the other.
Film design is good, sets are varied and camera movements are dynamic. Featured fight scenes include homages to Bruce Lee in The Big Boss, Jackie/Sammo in their dozens of warehouse finales, and a Japanese dojo sequence for samurai cinema. While the film takes a bit to get going, once it starts, it never let’s up and the finale takes a page out of Peter Jackson’s playbook with multiple seemingly final fights, only to give way to another long sequence in another set. It is very entertaining and makes a well-deserved payoff once everything is said and done.
In the end, Chocolate is a fun, action-packed debut for the very cute and athletic Jeeja Yanin. While not a good film, it is a solid action film and definitely an improvement to Pinkaew’s direction in other films. Jeeja has quickly become a face to watch out for in years since this film’s release, and I still like to revisit this picture for the good choreography and bone crushing and wince-inducing finale.
You may enjoy this film if you like: Ong Bak, Tom Yum Goong, Raging Phoenix