Martial arts fans live for those moments when the big blow transcends the screen, briefly taking our breath away and eliciting an involuntary gasp. Chocolate has a good handful of those sucker-punch moments, as well as about a dozen others that will have you reaching for the remote in an effort to figure out how they managed, for example, to show a guy falling off a three-story-high ledge and landing on the pavement below in one uninterrupted shot. Not only that, but it also features a female lead whose fighting skills nearly rival that of her predecessor Tony Jaa, and, from the look of things, single-handedly helped to keep Thai Emergency Room medicos employed as an endless parade of injured stuntmen filed in sporting shattered bones and open wounds. A rarity in the world of modern action and martial arts movies -- where stuntmen are called in for the really serious shots -- Chocolate aims to leave a mark by not pulling any punches; every jab, kick, knee to the face, or elbow to the skull looks like it genuinely hurt the performer on the receiving end, making it impossible to look away when the fists start flying.
The daughter of a Japanese yakuza and a Thai gangster's moll, Zen (Yanin Vismitananda) suffers from autism and lives in hiding with her mother, Zin (Ammara Siripong). Zen's only friend is Mangmoom (Taphon Phopwandee), a portly neighborhood kid who often looks after her while her mother is away. In addition to being obsessed with chocolate, Zen is transfixed by the boys at the martial arts school next door to her house, and soon begins imitating their movements while taking in a steady diet of kung fu flicks. When Zin falls ill with cancer, Mangmoom and Zen begin performing on the streets in order to raise money for her medical bills. Eventually, Mangmoom discovers a book containing the names of all the local business owners who owe Zin money, and the pair set out to collect on the overdue debts. Those who refuse to pay are forced to deal directly with Zen, who won't stop fighting until her mother is well again. When Zen's unique talents come to the attention of the very gangster who once vowed to kill her mother and father for their illicit affair, the stage is set for a bone-crunching showdown featuring swords, guns, and plenty of good old-fashioned ass-kicking.
At its core, Chocolate is a story about an afflicted girl who will do anything to ensure that her ailing mother is properly cared for. It's a simple setup, but it gives the story just enough heart to keep us involved during the occasional lull between fights. But don't fool yourself; the main attraction here isn't the story, but the many scenes in which Zen takes on warehouse-full after warehouse-full of imposing baddies, never flinching as she methodically dispenses with anyone who dares stand between her and the money that will pay for dear old mom's medical treatment. It's exhausting just watching the action, so it's easy to see how four years could go into making a film like Chocolate, as director Prachya Pinkaew claims. The choreography is executed with eye-popping speed and precision, indicating that the training newcomer Vismitananda endured for her big-screen debut must have been grueling to say the least; her movements are as graceful as any ballet dancer's, and her ability to remain in character while trading blows is an impressive indicator of her talents as an actress. A worthy successor to Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong, Chocolate is both an exciting introduction to a major new martial arts talent, and a lightning-paced thrill ride with bruises to spare.