By Rob Stoakes. So there aren’t any films out as of time of writing. No superhero movies, no sequels, no big launches for multi-film franchises, and you know what that means. Yes, it’s time to make up a flimsy excuse to talk about a film that’s more than a few weeks old. This is an action film, and there are action films out right now…
… sure, that will do.
It’s more than probable that you’ve not even heard of today’s retro review subject, Chocolate. It’s main claim to fame is that it was directed by the same guy who directed Ong Bak, and that’s the level of obscurity we’re talking about. This is a crime, however, because Chocolate has the distinction of possibly the most tasteful portrayal of autism in movies… and also the least tasteful.
Jeeja Yanin plays Zen, the young woman with autism, as she enters adulthood. Her single mother’s health is deteriorating, but despite poverty and illness Zen and her mother, with the help of some friends, will work their way through… because it turns out that Zen’s mother is a retired gangster so Zen runs around town beating up everyone who owes her money to pay for hospital treatment and there’s a mobster with a gang of evil transvestites who are after the Yakuza and whoop-si-daisy we’ve veered off the sensible tracks and made a stop at Lunatic Station, haven’t we?
Well, yes and no. The plot is bananas and entirely an excuse for the various fight scenes, but something that should be thunderously offensive is made less so by Jeeja Yanin, possibly the most underrated action star of our generation. It should be illegal that she only has two leading roles to her name, and that’s not just for her martial arts. There’s a line in Tropic Thunder that best sums up the problem with Hollywood’s portrayal of autism:
“Look at Hoffman. Look retarded, acted retarded, wasn’t retarded. Beloved […] Now, Sean Penn, he was retarded, went full retard. People hated it. Never go full retard.”
Not exactly eloquent, sure, but it’s also true. Hollywood always goes for the cleanest, most palletable portrayals they can, making autism less a disability and more a funny little quirk or even a superpower. But Jeeja Yanin’s portrayal isn’t clean. It’s cringe-inducing, it’s hard to watch and it’s awkward. And it’s fantastic.
As an actress, Yanin’s awesome, but it’s with her martial arts that she shines. The concept is great, with her going to very different places so each fight scene looks distinct and unique, and all new styles are used each time. It’s like Hero, but instead of just colours that change its entire sets and it’s awesome, and it allows Yanin to perform some of the most hard-hitting spots in film. Watch out towards the end where a woman gets kicked into a pipe, it actually made me squirm.
Ok, so, minor spoilers ahead, but this is the test to see whether or not you’ll enjoy Chocolate. Below is one of the later scenes in the movie. Zen has the bad guy cornered and has ploughed through dozens of his henchmen. And that’s when he unveils his secret weapon…
Thailand, you are amazing. And kind of stupid.
For those of you who can’t watch Youtube or work and/or religious reasons, the villain realises that the only way to defeat the autistic woman is to use a man with Tourettes whose spasms are so violent that they turn into kung fu! I still don’t know how they came up with that! The first time I watched that I thought that I was stuck in Jackie Chan’s fever dream! That is in such poor taste that it loops back around and becomes amazing again!
This scene is the ultimate litmus test of Chocolate. Sincere in its intentions and execution but jaw-dropping in concept, if you can handle an experience more stupid and offensive than a reenactment of WWII with baby seals, then you might enjoy biting into Chocolate.