Following their success working with Tony Jaa, director Prachya Pinkaew and stuntman / fight choreorapher Panna Rittikrai decided to search for a female martial arts star. A young woman named JeeJa Yanin auditioned for a part in a project they were working on and Panna saw the possibilties. Already proficient in the Korean martial art Tae Kwondo, she then spent nearly two years of grueling training adding new skills including, of course, Thailands own native art Muay Thai.

The oddly named Chocolate is JeeJa's debut starring role and while she's not a match for Jaa in terms of being a stunt person, she certainly is impressive and arguably Chocolate is better than both Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong. JeeJa is fast and flexible with impressive tae kwondo kicking skills (which always look impressive on screen) and an arsonal of mixed martial arts skills. In JeeJa Yanin, Thailands martial arts svengalis have discoverd female martial arts gold.

As to the film itself, it follows the simple 'you have something of mine give it back or I will hit you really hard' theme that has served them well in Jaa's two starring roles. Still it's a good a reason to hit people as any other except maybe the all time classic; revenge. JeeJa Yanin plays a young autistic woman who has the abilty to mimic any martial arts form she watches. Thus a diet of kung fu films growing up makes her a self taught master of the fighting arts. These skills come in handy when her mother falls ill with cancer and she sets out with her fat cousin to collect monies owed to her former loanshark parent. For some reason every simple business owner she visits employs double as deadly henchmen, so there's plenty of beatings to be handed out. Of course there's also a "big boss" in this case complete with uber bad hair. Villain No. 8 is her mother's former business partner / employer and former lover. He's not happy that his girl went off with the Yakuza that became her father and has made it clear they are to stay well away from his gang's territory. Inevitably, there's a big showdown in which beatings are handed out at a furious rate and JeeJa gets to showcase her skills against some top rate fighting talent including both male and female world champion level kick boxers. My personal favourite fight is against Kittitat Kowahagul's "Epileptic boxer", though it would seem his onscreen condition is more akin to tourettes with his ticks.

So what am I saying? Well the plot is serviceable, the acting is OK, the cinematography etc is good and the onscreen combat is really top notch. As 2008 draws to a close I think it's pretty safe to say this is the best martial arts film you will see this year, though Ong Bak 2 will more than likely surpass it if the trailers and promo footage are anything to go by. Essentially after that it's going to be a case of waiting for the Thai super teamup move between Yanin and Jaa which has surely got to be high on martial arts cinema fans wish list after this impressive debut.

Chocolate - Trailer

Directed by Prachya Pinkaew (Tom yum goong), Chocolate  stars JeeJa Yanin as Zen, a young autistic girl with a sweet tooth and a penchant for Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa movies whose uncanny ability to mimic her heroes' martial arts skills has made her an unlikely but equally awesome fighting force. When Zen's mother is diagnosed with cancer and finds herself unable to afford the medical treatment she requires, Zen and her best friend Mangmoom set about calling in a long list of debts owed to her mother. What Zen doesn't realize is the money is owed by gangsters and killers, all rivals from her mother's days as the head of a mafia clan and none of them are willing to pay up without a fight! 

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