June 1, 2011

Chocolate (2008)

LAST YEAR, OUR SON JACK-JACK was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

It’s forced us to evaluate every aspect of his life in order to help him continually develop his social skills and avoid negative reactions to situations. Every day and every situation is unique – from peer interaction and school choices to whether he’s happy with the way he wrote his name.

As I was scrolling through my Netflix queue last week, I came across Chocolate by Thai director Prachya Pinkaew. I had considered watching it a couple of years ago because of my love of martial arts films (and the fact that Pinkaew’s 2003 classic Ong-Bak has amazing, action-packed fight scenes).

But after Jack-Jack’s diagnosis, another reason made my interest climb…

Zen (JeeJa Yanin), a young woman with autism, is raised by single mother Zin (Ammara Siripong), a former member of a mob ring led by the sadistic No. 8 (Pongpat Wachirabunjong). Growing up, Zen discovers she has the ability to absorb precision fighting skills by watching martial arts movies on TV and observing a class of students training in the courtyard outside her window. When Zin is diagnosed with cancer and can’t afford the medical bills, Zen sets out to collect from those who still owe Zin money. But what will No. 8 do when he finds out the daughter of one of his ex-employees is taking money from his clients?


Pinkaew does something very admirable with Chocolate: He doesn’t make Zen’s autism a one-note gimmick. He takes time at the beginning to show the emotional and social obstacles Zen faces growing up (these montages, accompanied by a beautiful lullaby-like score, are both touching and hard to watch).

As Zen, Yanin does an amazing job of capturing the many aspects of autistic behavior, such as obsessing over an item or hobby (be it martial arts, her collection of beads, or her ever-present tube of chocolate candies), fearing an everyday item (for Zen, it’s houseflies), or rocking left and right on her feet while examining something (Jack-Jack does that all the time).

Moving from emotional to physical: The fight scenes (choreographed by longtime Pinkaew colleague Panna Rittikrai) are fast-paced and have moments of inspired greatness. But Pinkaew doesn’t pull out all the stops in Zen’s first confrontation with baddies, or even the second one – he carefully ups the ante with each battle, sprinkling crazier moves and more lethal weapons into each subsequent clash. He saves the best for last: a one-two finale featuring a fight very similar to the House of Blue Leaves scene in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1, followed by an insanely brutal showdown between Zen and a dozen henchmen along a third-floor window ledge.

A few cons: The continuous cycle of fights in the second act (Zen tries to collect money, debtor sic’s goons on her, she kicks their asses, rinse, repeat) sometimes makes Chocolate feel more like levels of a videogame than a progressing story. The added dashes of slapstick also felt out of place – if I want that, I’ll watch Jackie Chan. And Zen’s one-on-one fight against a martial artist with epilepsy seemed one step away from self-parody.

At the beginning of Chocolate, there’s a message from Pinkaew:

“The making of this movie was inspired by a group of very special children and a personal dream. To unleash the amazing potential of human movement that is not often seen in everyday reality. To be an encouragement to parents and the unconditional love given to all the special children in the world.”

With this highly entertaining film, Pinkaew unleashes that potential through a character whose disorder is her path to strength. And it’s a potential that parents of children with autism strive to unleash in their own kids every single day.

Thai, with subtitles.
aka Fury.

Is it suitable for your kids?
Chocolate is rated R largely for violence. There’s a lot of martial-arts fighting, several people are shot, No. 8 cuts off a woman’s toe, his henchmen rough up some “clients,” and many men die in a bloody samurai sword fight. During a fight sequence in a butcher shop, a man gets his foot caught on a meat hook, while a cleaver gets embedded in another man’s shoulder. Regarding sex/nudity, there’s a brief shot of a man’s bare behind, as well as a lovemaking scene (naked but no nudity).

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
The early montages of Zin caring for Zen will likely appeal to your FilmMother’s maternal instincts, and if you have or know a child with autism, Yanin’s performance will hit home. From there, it depends if your better half enjoys (or at least can tolerate) the violence and bloodshed that comes with Zen’s fights with the bad guys.

The voiceover auditions for Kung Fu Panda 3 went horribly, horribly wrong.

* Director: Prachya Pinkaew
* Screenwriters: Chukiat Sakveerakul, Napalee
* Stars: JeeJa Yanin, Ammara Siripong, Pongpat Wachirabunjong, Hiroshi Abe
* MPAA Rating: R

Buy Chocolate from Half.com >>
Rent Chocolate from Netflix >>


Budd said...

great review. The fights were actually inspired by fights from other famous stars. there is a bruce lee, jet li, and jackie chan tribute all in there. As she learned the moves from watching those movies it is appropriate.

I absolutely loved this movie. I think the one guy has tourette's and not epilepsy though. I love how she mimmicks him in order to beat him.

Gemma said...

Where the heck do my comments go? Cyberspace? Here I go again...

I recently read a novel about an 18 yr. old boy w. Asperger's who was obsessed w. CSI technology. Very good book, and had me running the gamut of emotions. It's called, "House Rules."


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