Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Chocolate (2008)

Knee + skull = pain

You might be saying, "I saw that film and it was not from Thailand, it was set in France and it had dreamboat Johnny Depp playing a guitar". Well that's because that film is 2000's Chocolat directed by Lasse Hallström, that is not this film, that is a different film. This is from the same guy who did Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong (Prachya Pankaew) so it may not have a woman learning about life and love as she deals with quirky characters in a small French village, but the fight scenes are incredible. They're the kind of unbelievable, meticulously choreographed fight scenes they don't make anymore, since they figured out the audience could be fooled into thinking a fight scene is awesome if you shoot a bunch of fists and feet in closeup and shake the camera around. Watching this film took me back to when I first saw a Jackie Chan film as a teenager. I actually said "wow" out loud a few times while watching this, which is something I haven't done during an action film for a long time. Loud noises and $50 million dollars of CGI-enhanced bullshit can be thrilling in a primordial way, but it doesn't make me say "wow". I wanna say "wow".

Wrapped around these fight scenes is a fairly serious, melodramatic story. Zin is an enforcer for a gang of Thai criminals, but decides to give up her life of crime when she falls in love with a rival Yakuza gangster. She gets knocked up but her baby, who she names Zen, turns out to be severely autistic. As she grows up, Zen spends her time watching guys train at the the kickboxing gym next door (can you imagine the noise?) and watches Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong over and over. Ong Bak came out in 2003 so by my estimation it must be at least 2012, but there's no flying cars or anything. She absorbs all of the martial arts skills by autismosis (autism-osmosis) and becomes an unstoppable fighting machine. She can also catch stuff that is thrown at her, like those people in Awakenings.

All of this stuff comes in pretty handy when her mother develops cancer and can't afford the treatment. Her fat, comic-relief buddy Mangmoon (not Dirty Balls from Ong Bak, this time it's a younger actor Taphon Phopwandee, he's like Dirty Balls Junior) stumbles across a book that lists all the people that owe her mother money, so Zen uses her autism superpowers to beat the shit out of them until they pay up. Luckily they are all assholes and not some guy borrowing money to pay for his kid's heart transplant or something (wouldn't that be ironic?). This is a pretty good excuse for a series of fights at different locations such as an ice factory, a warehouse and a butcher shop. Flies are Zen's kryptonite, so it's pretty touch and go for a minute there at the butcher, but Mangmoom's got her back. Zen takes on dozens of guys at a time and beats them up with fists, feet, poles, chairs etc. Whatever's handy. They should've called this film "Where's my money, bitch?"

Each one of these fights would probably be the climatic fight in a lesser movie, but all of this leads to a showdown between Zen and her mum's old gang. This is a long fight, but it never gets boring because they mix it up with fists, swords and different numbers/types of opponents. She even fights a guy with Tourettes who uses his twitches and tics to throw off his opponent. He could've shouted "Fuck!" a few times, but still, pretty awesome. The only thing better would be a guy with multiple personality disorder who constantly switches between personalities/fighting styles during a battle. They can save that for the sequel.

Just when you think the movie is over and the bad guy is defeated, they bring out a stunt spectacular where Zen chases the bad guy up and down the side of a building. She jumps between ledges, climbs on signs and kicks guys off the side so they bounce like a pinball on their way down. No doubt there were a few wires used and the set looks pretty fake, but it's damned impressive nonetheless. A lot of these stunts will have you wondering how these stuntmen didn't kill themselves, and sure enough during the end credits they show a guy hurting his neck and getting loaded into an ambulance. The crew go and visit him in hospital, which I'm sure he appreciated.

Zen is played by Yanin Vismistananda (ie JeeJa Yanin), and this gal is something else. Impressive stuntwork, good fighting, she's the whole package. Plays the character well too, I like how she nudges the bad guys to make sure they're down and then just wanders off like it's nothing. Let's see a Tony Jaa and JeeJa Yanin team-up film Prachya, make it happen dude.

Of course, this film isn't perfect. The plot is pretty silly now that I think about it and the tone of the film is constantly changing gears. One minute you'll be grinning stupidly at a fight scene, then next minute it's cancer victims and death. Nothing new if you've seen a lot of Hong Kong films, but it's still pretty weird. Of course, to nitpick about that kind of stuff is to ignore the elephant in the room that is the incredible fights and stuntwork. Some people might be able to kill that elephant, serve it up to rich foreigners and put it's bones on display like those evil bastards in Tom Yum Goong, but not me. I love good fight scenes. And elephants.

If you like action films, especially if you liked Ong Bak or Tom Yum Goong, you have to check this out. There's no mystical Buddhist statues or bald musclemen suplexing baby elephants, but I think you'll like it anyway. Except if you're one of those guys who sits there complaining that the plot is stupid, the fighting is unrealistic and there's no way a girl could beat up all those dudes. But seriously, just between you and me, fuck those guys. Seeing this film made me lament the lost of art of the fight scene, but as long as Prachya delivers the magic every three years, I think I'll survive.

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