Its unfortunate that in the last decade Hong Kong cinema has lost a lot of its prominence and creativity when its come to producing great action and martial arts pictures. Even with increased exposure due to the cultural influence on American films and other hits such as The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Hero, Hong Kong cinema has largely dropped the ball when it has come to reproducing the same energetic classics it did during the HK golden age of the 1980s and ’90s. Even with the occasional throwback like last years Flashpoint reminding us of the glory days when the industry gave us fare the likes of Police Story and Fist of Legend, most of their output just doesnt have the same energy as it did in yesteryear. This is part of the reason why Prachya Pinkaews films, produced out of Thailand in the last few years, have become such an international sensation.
Starting with Tony Jaas breakout vehicles Ong Bak: Thai Warrior and The Protector, Pinkaew has managed to make himself the new big director of Martial Arts cinema. Throwing away the copious amounts of wirework and CGI that have plagued Hong Kong recently, the director has instead let the stunt work of his stars be all the special effects he would ever need. This would go especially for Jaa, who has managed the rare feat of combining Bruce Lees brutality with the physicality of classic Jackie Chan. With his newfound prominence in tow, Pinkaews new film, Chocolate, is his most ambitious effort yet, trying not only to fill the screen with as many fights as possible, but also trying to weave into his new film an odd family drama, all of which combines to form an oddly satisfying treat.
While many Kung Fu flicks in the past have borrowed from Romeo and Juliet‘s formula of star-crossed lovers, there probably havent many of those films that decided instead to focus on the couples child. A Yakuza and a female Thai gangster fall in love, but their lives in crime keep them apart, leaving the girl to raise their newborn. In another twist on the story, the baby girl, Zen (JeeJa Yanin), is autistic, but as she grows up she finds solace in watching the martial artists who work out next door, as well as sitting in front of the TV and watching Ong Bak and the like over and over. This leads to the girl learning how to fight all on her own in a Rain Man sort of way. When the girls mother, now retired from crime and dying of cancer, needs money to pay for her chemotherapy, Zen puts her newfound skills to good user, finding her moms old contacts and to collect old debts and pay for hospital bills.
Now right off the bat, this is pretty ridiculous premise, and on top of it Director Pinkaew manages to fill his film with a crazy assortment of exploitation devices, including several transsexual assassins and weird animated dream sequences. Oddly enough though, even after all that a lot of what youll come away with here are the sweet family mechanics of the movie. Zen loves her mother dearly, and its hard not to like the chemistry between Yanin and Taphon Phopwandee, who plays her lovable caretaker/comic sidekick in the movie. Actress Ammara Siripong also does good work as Zens mother, and becomes much of the emotional center of the piece, desperately trying to protect her daughter from her past mistakes.
This of course, is really just the backbone for what turns out to be an amazingly inventive fight flick. JeeJa Yanin is a revelation as Zen, as she flip-kicks and high knees her way through the movies awesome action sequences. Prachya Pinkaew manages to set up one of her initial fights brilliantly, having it take place in an ice factory, reminiscent of Bruce Lees signature fight in his first major film, The Big Boss, even having Zen sport a Lee-like battle cry and using a fighting style similar to the martial arts legend. After getting some Tony Jaa-esque fight scenes, the final 25+ minute battle to end the film goes all over the place, with Zen fighting a male doppelganger, kicking and kneeing her way through a 3-on-1 showdown, Kill Bill-like sword battle with all family members participating, and then finally an acrobatic tour de force with our heroine fighting gangsters atop a three story ledge.
Chocolate isnt for everybody, but for those that love their exploitation fight flicks a little on the weird side, this one is for you. Successful on nearly all accounts, the movie also proves that Director Pinkaew can still orchestrate a terrific Martial Arts-fest without Tony Jaa in it and that hes a good enough director to also handle quieter moments in his film making. With less directors filling the Martial Arts market today with quality goods, its nice to see Prachya Pinkaew still out there trying what he can to fill the gap.
Having seen the DVD print on this movie, I can verify the superiority of this Blu-ray transfer, featuring a much higher degree of image quality and clarity on this disc. This is a really nice picture image with bright colors and no artifacts what so ever.
The audio track is also quality, letting you hear all of the kicks and high knees is brilliant clarity.
The Making of Chocolate – This is the only real feature, but this is pretty standard promo stuff. Going about 8 minutes, you do get to see some cool fight training and behind the scenes stuntwork, but theres nothing major here.
Trailers – Trailers for The Host, The Signal and Splinter, all presented in HD.
If youre tired of run of the mill, CGI-filled Hollywood action fare, then do yourself a favor and check out Chocolate. The movie is a tremendously good time and has some breathlessly put together fight scenes, along with some well made family drama, ala Jet Lis The Informer. The Blu-ray is a little light on extras, but image quality is spectacular and is a definite improvement over the DVD print.
Magnolia presents Chocolate. Directed by: Prachya Pinkaew. Starring: JeeJa Yanin, Ammara Siripong, and Taphon Phopwandee. Written by: Napalee and Chukiat Sakveerakul. Running time: 110 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: February 10, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Tony Jaa