Just when I thought I'd witnessed every possible way a person can be kicked in the head, along comes a film that makes you sit up and re-evaluate your whole head kicking outlook. Taking cranial punishment to dizzying new heights of trauma and wooziness, Chocolate is an uncompromising knee to the face. The kind of movie where ice factory employees, box manufactures and butchers are all adept at material arts (well, not too adept, after all, they all get their asses handed to them by a little girl who's afraid of airborne insects), Prachya Pinkaew's kinetic film flies off the screen with a bone crunching intensity. Never have I seen so many rendered unconscious in such short period of time. I mean, the amount of concussions suffered during this film must have been through the roof (that roof metaphor, by the way, could be applied literally in a couple of cases). Set in, oh, let's say, Bangkok, Thailand, Chocolate is about a young autistic girl named Zin who has super-fast reflexes, learns to fight by watching Ong-Bak (another Pinkaew film about kneeing people in the face), and enjoys eating snacks made from the cocoa bean. The diminutive little scamp uses her special skills to collect debts from businesses that owe money to her ailing mother (Ammara Siripong). Why do all these people owe her money? Well, I think mommy used to be a big deal in the Thai underworld, but fell out with Number 8 (Pongpat Wachirabunjong), their long-haired leader after she refused to stop seeing a Yakuza rival (Hiroshi Abe) on a romantic basis.
However, pesky things like plot and story aren't that important (though I did like the dreamy 4AD-ish pop that accompanied the pre-brawling scenes), what is important is that a spunky newcomer named Yanin "Jeeja" Vismistananda has arrived to collect "Mom's money" and is ready to straight-up kick your ass into next week.
The five foot three Jeeja and her wacky sidekick Moom (the awesomely named Taphon Phopwandee) travel (by moped) from one warehouse to another collecting cash and getting into elaborately staged fight scenarios. The encounter at a pork plant being the one most fraught with danger, you know, because of all the meat cleavers that are lying around. Oh, and not to mention the flies (Jeeja's character hates the way they incessantly buzz around her).
The talent of Jeeja is best observed when she is going toe-to-toe with an epileptic combatant wearing a blue tracksuit at a House of Blue Leaves-style dojo (I loved his twitching and the breaking dancing angle to his technique) and during the rooftop, balcony, and billboard scrap that employs dazzling and wince-inducing stunt work (the medical bills during this sequence must have been staggering).
Pummeled faces and broken wrists are fine and dandy, but I couldn't have been the only one in the audience who was strangely drawn to the plethora of ladyboys (kathoey) that populated the world of Chocolate. Sure, like most normal people, I replayed my favourite kicks and punches in my head as I walked from the theatre (I might have even acted a few of them out), but the allure of the ladyboys was so pronounced, that I couldn't stop thinking about how captivating they were during the ride home. Whether they were playing a cackling henchwoman (an over-the-top Sirimongkol Iamthuam) or bumbling assassins, the ladyboys in this film had a profound affect on me. I also loved how none of the other characters seemed to make a big deal out of their ladyboy status. They were chicks with dicks who just happen to be employed by one Thailand's most ruthless gangsters. I'm telling you, it was a beautiful thing.