Hallelujah. Girls with Guns are back with a big fat old fashioned no hold back kickfest that will bring on orgasmic hot flashes for those of us who worshipped the likes of Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima, Cynthia Khan, Michiko Nishiwaki and Kara Hui in the 1990’s. Tough, resilient women who could make a roomful of men cry for their mother. Those days are gone in Hong Kong, but at least for some 90 delirious minutes it is back in Thailand. Actress Yanin "Jeeja" Wismitanant is the real deal with years of Muay Thai training behind her and a fervent desire to make a go of it in a man’s action world. The bruises and cuts she received while filming are testament to this. With a facial resemblance to Yukari Oshima, Jeeja also has many of her physical skills – extremely quick and limber kicks, acrobatic moves and a risk taking attitude. She doesn’t emit Yukari’s power yet, but for a debut performance this is spectacular beginning with hopefully more to come. Of course, Jeeja is more likely to be compared to her countryman and inspiration Tony Jaa, but at least at this point she doesn’t come close to his ability to overwhelm you with his moves – i.e. no running across the heads of a line of men. Still, this one-two punch makes Thailand the action capital of the world for now – at least for those who like their action real and rough.
Chocolate is directed by Prachya Pinkaew, who was the guiding force behind Ong-Bak, Born to Fight and Tom Yum Goong, but unlike those films he actually gives this one a decent if not complicated story line that has at least a bit of characterization and sentiment. On the other hand there may be those who find the premise offensive. Not only is the main character autistic, but her toughest challenge is fighting another person who is autistic - this one practicing a shaking break dancing form of kung fu. It will be interesting to see how the US distributors handle that angle after someone picks it up.
Zin (Ammara Siripong) is a tattooed moll/enforcer/collector for a nasty Thai kingpin of crime. When a Japanese Yakuza (Hiroshi Abe) invades his turf, Zin falls for him and the two fall quickly into bed. The Thai kingpin doesn’t appreciate this and forces the Yakuza to return to Japan – not knowing that Zin is carrying his child. Zin leaves the gang – leaving her big toe behind as payment – and sets up home right next to a Muay Thai training facility. The child is a girl – Zen – who turns out to be autistic, but she grows up like any girl in Thailand – loving her mother, eating chocolate and watching Tony Jaa movies on TV. The only difference is her “special” skill as some autistic children have – extremely acute hearing, rapid fast reflexes and an ability to incorporate any fighting style into her being. Her quick reflexes allows her to swallow buzzing flies and catch balls (and knives) thrown at her from any direction.
Year’s later mom comes down with cancer and she and her portly friend find a black book with outstanding debts owed to her mother. They decide to collect them. Fortunately for the viewer these men don’t want to pay them back and they all own small businesses – ice factory, chocolate wholesaler and meat market – with lots of employees who think it will be fun smacking around a young clearly disabled woman. They couldn’t be more wrong. The three different locations create lots of opportunities for various weapons and acrobatics as Zen bounces around like a ball on speed as she smacks them all down to size. Like most martial arts films of this nature, the fights get bigger and more complex as they progress – the best most bone breaking being left for last.
The Thai kingpin comes back into the picture and in the finale Zen has to take on hoards of oncoming men in a scenario that will likely remind many of the finale in Kill Bill. But it shifts from this interior set up to an astonishing set piece that takes place on the multi-level ledges of the building – so purely Hong Kong that I almost wet my pants – as dozens of men chase after Zen to only go crashing below hitting every ledge and sign along the descent – absolute hold your breath and pray stuntwork. Taking a page out of Jackie Chan, the film accidents roll over the end credits and they are painful to watch. As much as I love this stuff, there is a part of me that feels like this is feeding Christians to the lions for entertainment – but if so – bring on more lions. This one ranks right up there with the best of the Hong Kong Girls with Guns films and it just felt so good.
My rating for this film: 8.0