If Prachya Pinkaew's previous films are anything to go by, the narrative is almost incidental and merely a reason for some extraordinarily violent action sequences. In Chocolate, his new film, Zin, a mistress to No. 8, a boss in the Thai Mafia, has being seeing Masashi, a member of the Japanese Yakuza and is pregnant by him. No. 8 punishes her by cutting off a toe and condemning her to a life of poverty and with Masashi forced to flee to Japan, she has to bring up her autistic daughter alone.
When Zin falls ill, her daughter and her friend Mangmoom, exploit the girl's highly sensitive hearing by using her as a novelty act, where she catches balls without even looking. When this source of income proves insufficient to buy the expensive cancer drugs for Zin, Mangmoom and her daughter visit some men who owe Zin money from her time with the mafia. When they tell the kids to get lost, the girl puts another of her skills into practice - to perfectly mimic and recreate martial arts moves from games and movies that she has watched.
Thus begins a series of tenuously linked extremely violent fight sequences with mob boss after mob boss until she recovers the money and faces off with No. 8.
A very good picture, with vibrant colours and good contrast and the transfer is excellent.
The film contains minor use of CGI and green screen, and seemingly no wirework - the fight sequences are brilliantly choreographed and the two years of training that JeeJa Yanin underwent in preparation for the lead role pays off handsomely. This has the same sense of realism (in the fight scenes anyway) as in Ong-Bak and Warrior King with the crunching of bone on bone and wince inducing blows being landed throughout the film.
It's a really odd soundtrack with bizarre choices of music and Foley sounds that are too loud to be realistic, undoing all the good work that the actors and choreographers have done - some might argue that this accentuates the sense of violence, but I found it detracted from it.
There's a choice of 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo - both in Thai with English subtitles - and the 5.1 has the edge with the surrounds putting you in the middle of the action.
There are six main features, ranging from a making of to a segment featuring real martial arts stars and these are obviously part of a Thai EPK package, with quite a lot of duplication between them. As a whole they are interesting and informative but it's a shame that they weren't edited down to a single piece.
There are also some deleted scenes, outtakes, TV spots and trailers.
One of my major bugbears with Pinkaew's previous films was his use of slow motion and replays where a stunt he particularly liked was shown several times from different angles. Fortunately this is absent from Chocolate but he still tinkers with the frame rate, slowing some things down and speeding others up to make JeeJa Yanin appear to move faster than she really was.
This is the sort of film where you put your brain on standby and marvel at the sheer athleticism and skill of the fighters. This is principally sold on 'The New Tony Jaa' tagline and much is made of the lead actor being female - this particular aspect dominates the special features, with more than a hint of sexism. Whereas Jaa was proficient in Muay Thai before meeting Pinkaew, Yanin only knew Taekwondo and had to learn Thai Boxing and Muay Thai under the supervision of choreographer Panna Rittikrai, who also trained Jaa. She displays a phenomenol range of martial arts, even mimicking Bruce Lee's mannerisms to show where her character picked up the moves.
It's very different to Pinkaew's previous films with the action feeling more choreographed and flowing less - occasionally dropping into Stephen Chow territory in the slapstick and humour stakes. If you can forgive the story taking second place to action and ladyboys again featuring heavily, this is an enjoyable movie. If you liked Ong-Bak or Warrior King, there is no reason at all why you won't love this.
Chocolate is available on DVD and Blu-ray just over a week after it opens in selected cinemas (October 24th).