This movie doesn’t actually have Tony Jaa in it, save for “cameo” appearances on a television screen, that is, footage from previous movies by director/producer Prachya Pinkaew: Ong Bak and The Protector. The footage is used in the hilariously fictional context that the main character—an autistic young girl named Zen (like, whoa)—watches a bunch of Tony Jaa movies, plays a bunch of beat-em-up video games, and observes the local Muay Thai school next door and becomes a martial arts savant, supposedly as being the only outlet she can truly express herself.
What the “cameo” indicates is that this movie belongs to the pantheon of the “Tony Jaa school” of action films, a term I came up with just now inspired by the same vein as the “Judd Apatow school” of comedy films, a term popular among critics these days. Like the way Judd Apatow set the stage for dead-pan R-rated comedies with common traits like flat-angles (to give room for actor-improvisation), multitudes of interesting characters and sprawling lengths despite thin concepts, Tony Jaa has set the stage for a much more bolder variety of martial arts film: emphasis on the punishing stunt work more than the martial arts itself, and action set pieces being the prime focus and attraction much more than the 1-or-2-dimensional contexts that surround them, yet doesn’t explain why there is usually more time devoted to context (in the original unedited versions at least) than the action set-pieces, or how the context never explains where certain bad-guys come from or why they exist. But that’s life I guess, it’s full of mysteries.
EDIT: Also, a lack of consistency on how many blows a bad guy can take. Sometimes just one will do, sometimes they need every bone broken before they can stop moving. What are the rules! I don’t know?
So when you’re getting in to Chocolate, you’re better to first make some coffee and/or a sandwich before settling down into some gang-warfare love-triangle bullshit you won’t care about for a good half hour or so. Long before Zen was born, her mother was a high-class prostitute that everyone seemed to be in love with, including Zen’s father—a Yakuza from Japan—and also the jealous leader of a local gang in Thailand, who the mother is trying to escape from. I guess there’s some more stuff that happens, but I could describe a minute-by-minute chronicle of walking to work this morning and it would be much more engaging. I come to watch a movie about some cute girl beating up some bad guys and this is what I get? And what’s with the title of the movie? No actual chocolate plays any significance to this story whatsoever!
I am patient, though. I like to think I have infinite patience, and I can sit through infinite garbage, because good things come to those who wait. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the part about Zen’s best friend, some annoying fat boy who dresses like a comic-book character, and comes up with the brilliant idea to chase money from certain gang-members that owe debt to the mother, because apparently she’s sick and needs medicine. This is all how Zen comes to finally beat up some bad guys, and it was…
…alright, I suppose. It’s no Tony Jaa. Let it be said that Chocolate’s story isn’t any less engaging than any previous Tony Jaa movie. The Protector is about how Tony Jaa has his elephants stolen by some Thai gang situated in Australia, who also murdered his father for good measure, and he comes to Australia to beat up 1000+ bad guys and find his elephants. I didn’t care about any of that, I just wanted to see Tony Jaa kick people, and he kicks beautifully, but I also realised what made his movies most exciting where the stuntmen, who put their lives literally on the line just to be kicked by the majestic Tony Jaa.
Chocolate had impressive martial arts, but very little of the life-or-death stunt work. It reduces the whole martial arts action to mere choreography, like a dance, like you may as well go watch Step Up 4: Revolution or StreetDance 2 or The Raid: Redemption. My favourite martial arts film, and one of my favourite films in general, is Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which also reduces the whole martial arts action to mere choreography, like watching a dance, but it was beautiful! Because the story was engaging and emotional, and I cared about the characters. I wouldn’t have cared if it didn’t have any martial arts in it at all, but the choreography is mind-blowing, and sometimes a little overwhelming. Chocolate was just…
…silly. Sometimes paying homage to the Bruce Lee/Jackie Chan aesthetics, other times just not making any sense, like when she fights another autistic martial arts savant. I’m going to stop here, because there’s really not much more about this film I can describe.