Sunday, August 30, 2009

Movie Review: Chocolate

Just to make sure we're starting on the same movie, there's an "e" at the end of that name, meaning this is a Thai martial arts movie, not a French romance movie. I haven't seen a lot of Thai movies - I think so far I've been limited to the sensational Tony Jaa in Ong Bak and The Protector. Both were quite entertaining though, and Netflix used their fancy algorithm to predict that I'd really like this one too, so I had high hopes. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

I will go ahead and say that this is a martial arts movie first and foremost, and if you don't enjoy the genre this one isn't going to have the wider appeal of some of the more beautifully-shot imports like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. However, if you're like me and can watch a martial arts movie the same way as a ballet, then this movie certainly delivers.

Like most martial arts movies, the plot is inconsequential and contrived to lead to a series of increasingly improbable but awesome fight locales. In this case, we have an autistic girl with a goofy but well-meaning friend and a sick mother who was previously involved in organized crime. The girl is fairly low functioning, with the exception that she can pick up martial arts moves by watching kung fu movies. The premise probably would have felt somewhat exploitative (especially in a certain autistic kid vs. autistic kid brawl) if it wasn't for a heart-felt message at the opening of the movie dedicating itself to "the special children of the world". I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. In any case, the plot was serviceable, slightly more interesting than a Jackie Chan movie, but nothing to write home about.

As expected, where this movie really shines is in the whole kicking-the-crap-out-of-people department. I don't feel qualified to judge the 24 year old actress on her autism portrayal, but she does a bang-up job on the crap-kicking. The choreography puts American action movies to shame, featuring longer uncut sequences and some very clever interactions with the environment. It's not quite as funny or over the top as a Jackie Chan flick, but in this case it worked well because it felt slightly more realistic and gritty while still being completely insane.

Watching this movie, along with Tony Jaa's films, has made one thing very clear: Thailand has the best, and absolutely craziest, stunt teams in the world. The stuff these guys do with few (or perhaps no) wires or CG effects is absolutely amazing. In fact, in true Jackie Chan style, we're "treated" to a montage of outtakes at the end of the movie. Honestly, this sequence made the rest of the movie somewhat disturbing when as you begin to realize how many people were injured (at least one ended up with a neck brace and was hospitalized I hear) during the filming of this movie. I hope these guys are paid well, because they produced an incredible product and really put their blood, sweat, and tears into it. Except the tears part. There's no crying in Thai martial arts movies.

Reflecting back on the movie, I really genuinely enjoyed it and would watch it again. I give it an enthusiastic 8/10, though with the asterisk that it really is a movie for people who enjoy martial arts movies. If you were unimpressed with The Protector and didn't love Legend of Drunken Master then you might as well skip out on this one too.

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