2003 was an important year for martial arts films. After years of domination by stylized, almost ballet-like action, along came a Thai film that opened the eyes of many fans. Pinkaew unleashed Tony Jaa on the public, and the combination of his Muay Thai skills, the lack of wire work and stunt doubles, and extremely rough and dynamic fighting scenes worked wonders. Now Pinkaew is back with his third film, Chocolate.
In Chocolate, Pinkaew leaves Jaa on the bench for the first time, instead he has opted for a female lead. Apart from that, nothing much has changed. Chocolate still follows the same basic blueprint and fans should know what to expect form Pinkaew's work.
Much like John Woo, Pinkaew still fails to insert working drama into his films. He tries alright, setting up a rather elaborate story about a girl, her mother and their connections to criminal groups. Sadly, it only detracts from the real action and holds very little value apart from advancing the story, making the beginning of the film a great deal slower than it should have been.
Visually, the films is nice enough and Pinkaew really made some progress there. He makes better use of colors and settings and gives the film a nice, though ultra thin flair. He does surprise a little with the short animation sequence showing the awakening of the hero's powers. Very nifty piece of animation. The music is less satisfactory, playing too much on emotion and making it one of the reasons why the drama won't kick off the way it should.
All of this added up made the first half hour of Chocolate a slight disappointment. Too much time spent on dramatic scenes, not enough ass-kicking. The storyline doesn't help, as the powers of Nicharee are still lying dormant. But once the action starts, all of that is easily forgotten. When the first real kick lands, the talent of Pinkaew finally starts to shine.
The earlier fights are nice but nothing too spectacular. The real cool stuff is clearly kept for the finale. Slowly Pinkaew builds up the pace and from there on things only improve. Nicharee is of course not the fighter that Jaa is, her being a girl means she can't hit as hard as Jaa. That said, her control, speed and athletic capabilities are beyond questioning and she excels in the action scenes. No complaints there.
And of course, the attraction of the Muay Thai style is still as big as ever. Though the moves aren't exactly new any more, it remains a truly remarkable way of fighting. The amount of control and speed exercised is simply stunning, and I really love how many moves are cut down half way and are followed by something completely different. This makes the actions hard to predict and keep the viewer on his toes.
The finale is long and features several awesome battles. My favorite was the duel between Nicharee and the crazed, twitchy son. Insane technique and incredible moves. These are the moments where Chocolate truly sets itself apart from its competition, and the slow becomes easily forgiven and quickly forgotten.
If you don't like martial arts, there's very little here for you. But if you love the hard-hitting madness of Muay Thai, there will be little to hold you back from enjoying this film. The drama is flimsy, the music too melodramatic. Visually, it's a good watch, but the prime attraction are the battles, which don't disappoint at all.