NetFlix Review #6: Chocolat

So here's quite a premise for a movie. A Thai mob moll and a Japanese yakuza have an illicit romance in Thailand, but are found out and the man is sent back to Japan, but not before impregnating the mob moll with an autistic child who can learn kung fu by watching old movies and the boys at the dojo next door. THEN the mob moll, who has fallen from grace with the mob, gets deathly ill and the child is forced, with the help of her friend, to collect money the mother is owed by beating the living daylights out of half of Thailand. Oh, and get this, the autistic fight master's name? Zen.

Sound ridiculous? Well, of course it is. Is it entertaining? You bet. The outlandish premise is basically there as a frame to hang a bunch of over-the-top fight scenes on, and frankly, at least to this film fan, that's ok. The movie is put together by the minds behind Ong Bak, but instead of the mind-blowing Tony Jaa as the star, we have the delightfully charming JeeJa Yanin. Although she doesn't have the mind-boggling skill sets of Jaa, Yin more than makes up for it in charisma. While she's certainly not giving the most accurate, realistic portrayal of autism ever, she also never milks it or makes it cloying or cheesy. Given the level of hyperbole some performances in this realm of cinema achieve, Yanin is practically understated. For her first film performance she exhibits an extraordinary understanding of how to act on film. Her character is built through small moments and mannerisms, she plays perfectly for the camera in both the action sequences and the melodramatic family scenes that tie the film together.

And to say that she doesn't have the physical dynamics of Tony Jaa is like saying a comedian isn't as funny as Groucho Marx. Well, of course they're not. The fight scenes are still exciting and a ton of fun. The designers on the film deserve a heap of credit, from the set designers who give Yanin some incredible set pieces (the abbatoir! The multi-level building exterior fight!) and the costume and make-up people who let Yanin be shaggy, bouncy and lanky, letting her movements be cartoonish and dancy all at the same time. But I cannot stress enough how great a calling card this is for JeeJa Yanin, who I cannot wait to see in something new. Sure, you can tell when they've sped up the film a bit to make the moves faster, and they definitely have to reset a lot of fights by having Yanin frequently run from one section of a fight to another and then adopt her "ready" stance, but these faults lay not solely with Yanin but with the director and editor as well. The fights are all pretty derivative, but they work because Yanin attacks them with the fervor and zeal that only a freshman can have. And the movie does have a couple fun tricks up its sleeve. The moment when Zen meets the Thai mob bosses spastic son is as hilarioius in its payoff as it is bizarre in its set-up. This is an auspicious debut, and here's hoping that Yanin can follow it up with bigger and better things. It's a fun flick, full of old-school chop-sockey high kicks and high melodrama. Check it out, so you can hopefully say you saw the next big international martial arts star back when she was new.