Sunday, September 14, 2008

Final TIFF


Every time I pick a move for TIFF, certain expectations exist. Rarely is there more to go on than the description in the official program, or the occasional early review. Some don't live up to the hype, others meet my standards, and some exceed these expectations.

I picked Chocolate expecting one thing - A whole whack of ass-kicking. It didn't disappoint.

Zen is the daughter of a Yakuza boss and Thai ganglord's girlfriend (or something). She is, as related in the story, a special child, with special needs. The audience decided she was, in fact, autistic. Slow to develop, and fairly non-communicative, her mother Zin gives up her life to raise Zen. Years pass, and Zen watches the kickboxers practicing in front of her house, martial arts movies (including Ong Bak - the director's previous film), and displays sharp reflexes and a keen sense of hearing.

Her best (and only) friend Moom uses Zen's talents to entertain crowds and take tips. She becomes a busker. The money is used to pay for Zin's cancer treatments. One night, Moom finds a book of Zin's from her gangster days, detailing who owes her how much. Naively, he and Zen go to collect from the underbelly of their city.

And that pretty much sets up increasingly impressive martial arts scenes as the debtors refuse to pay up without a fight... or more specifically, without the entire staff of whatever establishment they own putting up a fight. It's no surprise that the adversaries are little more than cannon fodder for Zen's grace.

This gets the attention of the gangsters (who happen to have a large number of Ladyboys as henchmen... go figure), figuring Zin is up to something. Of course, we all know where this is leading.

The Midnight Madness crowd are the people who own the fringe horror, categorize their martial arts movies by fight choreographer, and could probably correct Quentin Tarentino on mistakes in his homages to the Asian film world. The last time I heard them react like they did in this film was Banlieu 13, except this time it was pretty constant throughout the movie. Just when you think the bar's been set, it gets raised a bit higher.

When Zen walks into the dojo straight of Kill Bill and a dozen men come streaming down the stairs, you know you're in for a treat. The battle between her and another "special" kid (who the programmer of Midnight Madness referred to as "B-boy crackbaby") moves from an odd display of moves to a beautifully choreographed breakdancing fight scene that just has to be seen.

There's a plot, it's meant to connect the fight scenes. There's acting, it keeps it from being a silent movie. There's tragedy, because rarely do people fight for comedic reasons. In the end? It was the perfect way to end what turned out to be a great festival for me.

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