Thursday, July 30, 2009

Just Awesome Cinema: Chocolate (2008)

According to the good 'ol Wikipedia,, Autism is a brain development disorder that affects social skills and instills restricted and repetitive behavior. Lacking any medical credentials to my name, I can only boil it down to what I once heard from one of my elementery teachers: "It's like being trapped in your own reality". Now, why the Intro To Medical School beginning to this post? Because the main protagonist of Chocolate, Zen(Yanin Vismitananda), suffers from this malady.

The 2008 Thai martial arts film, from the makers of the spectacular Tony Jaa flick, Ong-Bak, is really a surprising entry into the genre of knuckle-dragging, head-smashing, hand-to-hand action...surprising because it is story first, action second. Similar to the Jet Li/Morgan Freeman flick Unleashed, Chocolate focuses on crafting characters, which is often not the case in most martial arts films. Of course, unlike Unleashed, I found the premise belivable to some degree; while I enjoyed Unleashed, I found myself distracted by the minor/major plotholes, like how could or how was Danny(Jet Li) trained in martial arts without someone knowing the strange situation he was raised in? But I digress.

How I find the situation of an autistic martial artist belivable will be expounded on. Essentially and surprisingly, Chocolate starts before Zen's birth, with Zen's mother, a sexy Thai gangster's girl named Zin(Ammara Siripong) and her father, a Japanese Yakuza named Masashi(Hiroshi Abe), being held at gunpoint at a table by the film's antagonist, Thai gangster Number 8(Pongbat Wachirabungjung), and his crew(which includes a very mascaline she-male, who is his lieutinant). Masashi proposes an alliance with Number 8, but 8 rejects it. After the confrontation, it is hinted that Masashi and Zin get romantic with one another. It all builds up to a violent sidewalk cafe confrontation between 8 and Masashi and his Yakuza crew, which ends with Zin switching sides and joining Masashi. Afterwards, Zin urges Masashi to return to Japan, for fear of retribution from 8.

Later, pregnant with Zen, she finds a place to stay and takes care of the baby. Hear, we learn that Zen has autism(i.e. "special needs") and need to be raised in a special way. Through the montage of scenes showing Zen growing up, she is given candy when she is crying one day by her mother, which becomes a trademark of sorts(hence, the name of the film). However, one day, when Zin decides to send a letter to Masashi to tell about their daughter, it is discovered by Number 8, who decides to punish the mother in the most horrible way(I'll leave that for you to see.)

Mother and daughter move again, and this time next to a Muay Thai dojo. By simply watching the training kickboxers, as well as Tony Jaa films, Zen begins to develop her potent martial arts skills. Around this time, Zin also takes in another child, a heavyset boy named Moom(Thaphon Phopwandee). Moom becomes the pesky brother to Zen, sneaking up on her(and getting elbowed for his trouble) and trying to throw things at her...which, no matter how hard he tried, she would easily catch every time!

Of course, in their teenage years, Moom has turned his pestering pasttime into a business, providing street demonstrations of Zen's catching skills to the public for spare change. When a gang of deliquents try to bully the duo, Zen springs into action(with one of the prettiest and funniest "Buzzsaw Kicks" I've ever seen!) and beats a few of them. It is later learned that Zin has developed a disease(I assumed it was cancer, and Wikipedia seemingly comfirms it on the Chocolate page), thus the reason Moom and Zen are doing the performing in the first place: to raise money for treatment and drugs. However, the drugs are very expensive, and the money they are making is not enough. All changes when Moom finds an old book, a relic of Zin's gangster past, with numbers of people who owe her money. And thus, the game begins.

Ms. Yanin, as Zen, is spectacular. Seriously, she nails it as an awesome martial artist and an autistic young woman(in my humble, lacking any medical training, opionion). In fact, the cast was wonderful, from Zin as a mother trying to escape her gangster past, to Moom as a foster brother looking out protectively for his autistic sibiling, to Number 8, who tortures Zin and her family over jealousy. I loved the story provided by the movie, and think it is really moving(espically the ending).

As I mentioned beforehand, I found the premise of an autistic martial artist, one who can simply watch and developed deadly hand-to-hand fighting skills, very belivable. Why? There is a realistic concept called "autistic savant", where a person with autism can develop genius skills in a mental area, such as playing music(without training) or very acute mental calculation. According to Wikipedia, savants, in general(autistic or not) can possess photographic memories. So, Zen, watching those kickboxers and Tony Jaa films, could easily be considered an autistic savant with genius-level skills in martial arts.

I hope to see Ms. Yanin in more flicks from Thailand, because Chocolate is awesome.

See The Trailer:

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