Ahem, I'm two years late on this one. But, if Walter Benjamin's taught me anything, it's that mechanically reproduced media exist outside of historical place and time, so I don't have to care that this was a movie that came out two years ago. Or something like that. Let's call it the idiot unconscious.
Anyway, if you like martial arts movies, you need to get your hands on Chocolate immediately.
I'm not necessarily an expert on martial arts movies, but I know a guy who is, and he's been my personal Yoda for a while here, so I think I can speak with a certain credibility.
The genius of Chocolate is in its synthetism. Apparently, blogger doesn't think synthetism is a word, but I'll be damned if it isn't.
Anyway, the basic plot of the movie is a bit saccharine. Our heroine (Ahem, heroine in a martial arts movie? Even recent greats like Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi aren't given this kind of top-billing, usually dropped in with an ensemble or secondary to male leads.) has autism, a particular variety that allows her to absorb fighting styles simply by observing them optically. It's a hell of a talent, one that I really would like. Beyond my present mastery of the crane style, of course. So, she's got this great skill, which comes in particularly handy because her mother has cancer and needs the treatment. So, our heroine, Zen, and her slightly husky-pants friend Moom embark on a collection campaign, hoping to reclaim debts owed Zen's mother by a whole load of generally shady guys that were part of her past, a past that included defying her clan and falling for Zen's father, a (gasp!) Japanese Yakuza. Wouldn't be a problem if Zen's mom wasn't Chinese. But, of course, being of Chinese descent seems to be rather useful if called to martial arts heroics.
All of this Hallmark card pathos doesn't really matter, except that it provides the backdrop for a story much in line with the enforcer/debt-collector topos of martial arts and western films. Well, except that our enforcer is autistic, hardly speaks, and really can't be much older than about 14 or 15.
Lucky for us all, she is one of the best martial artists I've seen in a while.
And, even more lucky for us, the director, writers, and cinematographer know their history.
Classic en masse henchmen ass kickings and boss battles? Check.
Multiple styles? Check, including one of the best scenes I've seen since the Drunken Boxing in Jackie Chan's Drunken Master series. Zen and a Japanese kid in a gold and black Adidas break-dancing sweatsuit square off in a monkey-style pas de deux. Not only is it an amazing vision of monkey style, but the nod to breakdancing is both obvious and knowing.
Jackie Chan style prop and architecture fighting? Check, with a freakishly amazing scene on and around the facade of a building, street signs, a train trestle, and street level. All at once, in a single scene. And this doesn't even begin to explain the slaughterhouse scene, which can't be described as anything less than a paradigm shifter.
And, for those of you new to the genre, it's even got that hilarity and self-parody that Kung-Fu Hustle had in spades. Less slapsticky, but still self-referential. Who knew that martial arts films were in their pomo phase?
You need to see this pronto.
Absolutely my martial arts film of the year. Or 2008. Whatever.