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August 29, 2012

Chocolate

by Franz Patrick


Chocolate (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

While Masashi (Hiroshi Abe) and a gang leader (Pongpat Wachirabunjong) figured out what should be done after a breach in territory, Masashi couldn’t help but notice Zin (Ammara Siripong), a woman with a scar across her left eyebrow who happened to be the girlfriend of the gang leader. Masashi and Zin eventually had an affair. When Zin’s boyfriend found out, they were warned never to be seen in public again or they were to be killed. Masashi moved to Japan; Zin had raised their baby on her own. When Zen (JeeJa Yanin) was born, the doctor informed Zin that her daughter had autism. However, Zen had an unusual ability: by simply watching someone perform martial arts, whether it be in person or on TV, she absorbed the moves like a sponge and executed them exactly when things got tough. “Chocolate,” based on the screenplay by Chookiat Sakveerakul and Napalee, featured characters that were paper-thin but its action scenes were so intense, so enjoyable, its shortcomings were almost secondary. However, that wasn’t meant to imply that the writers didn’t attempt to inject some heart into the script. Before the bone-crunching violence, a montage, accompanied by sad music, was dedicated to Zin and her love for her daughter. Although obvious, this needed to be expanded, not necessarily in using words because communication was at times very difficult for Zen but through quality time they shared, because the audience was asked to invest in the relationship later on. When Zin became ill, while it was easy to feel sympathy for her, the details in terms of who she was outside of her former role in the gang were, at best, vague. Furthermore, the father was gone for such a large chunk of the film, I’d almost forgotten about him. When Masashi finally reappeared, however, it was such a pleasure because the actor commanded a strong presence. The fun began when Zen and Moom (Taphon Phopwandee), a portly boy who’d been friends with Zen since childhood, stumbled upon a Zin’s book which contained names and how much money each person owed her. Since Zin needed medicine, Zen and Moom felt it was their duty to collect the money. As expected, none of the men on the list gave the money without a fight. Each passing battle sequence was more difficult, therefore more fun, than its predecessor. The locations of the fights couldn’t be any different. More importantly, the environment was actually utilized by the characters instead of just offering a different look for the sake of experimenting with lighting. The meat market scene was especially impressive. The sight of those hooks and beheaded pigs made me as comfortable as seeing contorted limbs and cries of pain. I would also like to note the roles of transsexuals in the film. I was very entertained by them because they weren’t featured as misunderstood victims. They actually held guns and were quite deadly when messed with. Although they were villains, there was a part of me that rooted for them because it was so refreshing to watch them play something unexpected without the script forcing them to wink at the camera and look stupid or cheesy. The transsexuals were simply a part of this Thai underworld and that is worth commendation. Directed by Prachya Pinkaew, “Chocolate” was expertly paced but letdown somewhat by aggravating sentimental music meant to hide its lack of character depth. Still, once the dizzyingly energetic punches and kicks were thrown, it was impossible not to pay attention and admire it for what it is.

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