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If you’re looking for some martial arts action, the Thai movie Chocolate is definitely worth your while. The story of a young girl born with autism who somehow picks up martial arts by watching a neighboring school and old movies (including some shamelessly inserted clips of Ong-Bak) is rather odd, but the stunts and fights make it top-notch viewing for martial arts fans.

The movie's heroine, Zen, has a rough life. She was born with autism. Her parents were once gangsters but they were forced out of the life by a rival gang; Zen’s Japanese father was forced to return to Japan. Zen’s mother has cancer, they are broke, and things are not looking good. Zen and her sidekick discover her mother's old loan-sharking debt book and begin collecting debts to pay for her mother’s hospital bills. Unfortunately the debts are now on another gang’s territory. It's not hard to guess where this is going.

The plot and character development in Chocolate are very thin, essentially existing only so that we can get to the important stuff—the action. Would this have been a better movie with a great plot and characterization? I’m sure it would, and I hope that one day this director figures that out so he can deliver a real classic. He seems to have most of the necessary tools.

Still, much like Ong-Bak before it, the concentration on the action delivers. Once the fights start, martial arts fans won’t find too much to complain about. Viewers are treated to a mix of unarmed styles (mainly striking-oriented, but not limited to Muay Thai), as well as some staff, stick, and sword fights. The fights start out well and build up to a truly excellent climatic battle. There's also some nifty stunt work, especially towards the end. It's hard to understand how they could have managed some of the stunts without getting hurt, and if you watch the outtakes after the movie you’ll see that some humans (including the star) were injured during the making of this film.

 Vismistananda "JeeJa" Yanin is quite impressive in this debut role as the autistic heroine Zen. I look forward to seeing her again.

Three & a half star rating