Who said Chocolate is bad for you?

Chocolate (Madman, 2008)

She’s sweet, but she’s deadly. Someone got paid too much for that tag-line.

The 2015 OzAsia Festival has immersed Adelaide in both classic and contemporary Asian cultures, a great experience for the senses. Experimental entertainment, world class art, the lantern festival and of course, the Noodle Market. How could any film, much less a review of a film, pay proper tribute to all of the aspects that we’re saying goodbye to as the festival wraps up? A look-back at a raucous, B-grade martial arts film? Sure.

Chocolate is a film about Zen, a girl with a mental condition that gives her super-human reflexes and coupled with her childhood spent with video-games and Prachya Pinkaew movies, allows her to become a self-taught Muay Thai master. Naturally, Prachya Pinkaew is also the director of Chocolate and there are a few nods to his previous success with acclaimed martial artist Tony Jaa in the Ong-Bak series. This is Jeeja Yanin’s debut as our ass-kicking young crusader, looking for the money mobsters owe her sick mother. She isn’t afraid to follow Pinkaew’s push to new boundaries in both choreography, special effects and the depiction of deep psychological trauma. Yanin portrays a girl on a knife edge; fragile in her deep mental episodes and the enduring pain of a broken family, and yet freakishly dangerous in displaying Muay Thai without fault.

As much as it is the novelty factor that often pulls both mainstream and cult audiences towards B-grades from the Orient, there isn’t anything about Chocolate’s style, production, acting or special affects to turn noses up. Thailand is largely a dark horse behind China and Singapore’s rapid expectation in growth, but it’s advantage is the low production costs that attracts film makers and production companies looking to set-up films on lower budgets. Outside of the commerce, Chocolate pays due respect to the artistry of its own, home-grown fighting styles. Muay Thai posses a similar philosophy to Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do in that the body becomes an arsenal of weapons, all with the potential to produce a single, lethal strike. Over and over, so many bad guys learned this the hard way, and I began to wonder why anyone would choose this line of work, being paid to be demolished by a teenage girl. Here lies the wonder of Muay Thai films; they are real hits and people do get injured doing these films. Playing right next to the credits is a reel of every injury and broken bone caught on tape during the film’s production. Each blood nose and neck fracture is a badge of honour and you can’t help but feel like you’re closer to the culture that produces such hard-hitting pictures. Hollywood can’t often celebrate its hard work outside of the finished piece, but breaking down the talent behind a martial arts flick is a ritual going back to the huge notoriety following Bruce Lee.

Chocolate is a film not only from, but of a region that is hugely excited to introduce us to their fighting style, their culture and their films. Bouncing between over-passes and seedy back-streets, Pinkaew throws us into the urban hit of Thailand and gives us the full, visceral absurdity of Zen’s untameable pursuit of street-justice. As much as the festival has slipped past us once again, films from the region will continue to grow and flourish, fighting through a tough market to reach western audiences. Chocolate is just the type of martial art film to keep us motivated to search out more B-grade Thai hits.


Originally published at thespectrumperspective.tumblr.com.

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