Friday, August 01, 2008

Chocolate (Prachya Pinkaew, 2008)

Martial arts action goes head to head with political incorrectness in Chocolate, the latest beat-em-up from Thai director Prachya Pinkaew. Centered on an autistic girl who has learned to fight by mimicking action movies, the movie attempts a skewed tale of revenge, but fails to inspire much passion. Chocolate doesn’t have a plot so much as a premise, and it’s a premise that works better in theory than in execution, at that. By the time its first half hour rolls by, Chocolate becomes an endless parade of barely contextualized fight scenes. After a while they seem to blur together, dulling much of the impact that they might have. As Zen, the young autistic girl at the center of it all, moves up an organized crime syndicate’s ladder, there’s little sense that the stakes are being raised. Because it features an emotionally retarded protagonist, the film lacks much in the way of emotional resonance. Like its heroine, Chocolate only lives in the moment.

Although Chocolate is from the creator of Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, it features little as exciting or physically impressive as that film’s best scenes. Although this film does seem better when considered a demo reel for the athletic ability of newcomer star Yanin Wismitanant, who plays Zen, it’s clear that she is no Tony Jaa (although her character is shown studying his moves, via his films). Wismitanant fares even worse on the dramatic side, as her role gives her little to do except fight and caterwaul about her sick mother’s worsening condition. It’s something of a star turn, because of Wismitanant’s wire-assisted physical prowess, but it’s not the slam dunk it should have been by a long shot. Hopefully Wismitanant’s future projects are more fleshed out.

Like most Thai movies, Chocolate was made inexpensively, but here the production values are distractingly cheap. From awful set designs to the amateur CGI effects, the movie simply is not impressive to look at. Even worse, though, is that it fails to be the exploitation movie it desperately wants to be. Far too much attention is paid to the movie’s tear-jerking elements, which never register because the plot is so sparse. Although it’s mildly offensive at times (the climactic showdown features the autistic heroine sparring with a young gladiator with Tourette’s), Chocolate is generally not as outrageous as fans of the genre might hope. Despite a few pleasingly bizarre moments, like the introduction of a gang of drag queens, Chocolate is ultimately an affair that’s far too serious for its own good.

Rating: 43/100

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