Get ready for JiJa-mania! First, though, we have to decide how to spell her name. JiJa Yanin (as her name appears on a Hong Kong DVD, JeeJa Yanin as it's spelled at IMDb, Yanin 'Jeeja' Wismitanant according to film writer Wise Kwai) is a whirling dervish of a woman warrior in Prachya Pinkaew's Thai action flick Chocolate. And you can order it on DVD today, as long as you can play foreign-region DVDs, can understand Thai, and/or don't mind the lack of English-language sub-titles.

I'd rather understand everything that's going on in the movie, but there's been no word on a US distributor and I've grown impatient since first hearing about Chocolate back in February, when it was released in its native Thailand. Even without sub-titles, though, it's easy to follow the narrative.

A gun-toting female debt collector has an affair with a Japanese man, which enrages the gang leader who considers the woman his personal property. She is forced to raise her autistic daughter alone. Her daughter becomes an enfant terrible as far as kick boxing and martial arts are concerned, and soon is demonstrating her uncanny ability to catch flies and whatever is thrown at her -- baseballs, tennis balls, knives -- on the streets of Bangkok.

Mom gets sick, though, and the young girl who loves chocolate discovers Mom's book of old debts and decides to start collecting from a nefarious collection of criminal businessmen. Of course, they don't want to pay, and they all employ dozens of henchmen all too eager to viciously attack a young, pretty teenager, and so our young heroine must fight back the only way she knows how.

Chocolate has a great, wildly varied color scheme and a crisp pace, which makes it easy to become involved with the story even before all the major ass-kicking commences about 30 minutes into the picture. In that sense, it's actually an improvement over director Pinkaew's Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, which introduced Tony Jaa to the world. Like that earlier film, though, Chocolate doesn't really take flight until its lead character leaps into action.

JiJa Yanin is not as gifted or thoroughly trained as Tony Jaa; she's much younger and has been training for a much shorter time. But Pinkaew and the superb action choreographer Panna Rittikrai tailor each sequence to her skills, and she looks suitably deadly in close-quarters action with quick, sharp punches and kicks, as well as gliding movements that maximize her tiny, slender figure.

As with one of their inspirations, Jackie Chan, Pinkaew and Rittikrai make maximum use of a wide variety of settings and the props that are available therein. So, for example, when JiJa collects a debt at a meat-cutting plant, we see a lot of big knives, sharp metal hooks, razor-edged saws, and slabs of beef integrated into the action. The closing credits include footage of some of the pain and suffering that was suffered by JiJa and the stuntmen in the making of the film.

Chocolate is not as good as Ong Bak or Rittikrai's Born to Fight, but I'd say it's about on par with The Protector (AKA Tom Yum Goong), the follow-up by Pinkaew and Jaa, or Dynamite Warrior. It's a lot of fun and well worth seeking out for Asian action fans, keeping in mind the criteria mentioned in the first paragraph above.

I watched the IVL DVD (Hong Kong, Region 3), which includes a nine-minute "making of" feature that includes a lot more filming, practicing and hurting, and interviews with director Pinkaew and star JiJa. The other supplement is "JiJa's Visit to HK," which follows JiJa to Hong Kong for a live martial arts demonstration and the film's gala premiere there. As noted, the DVD doesn't include any English sub-titles, but features two Thai audio tracks (DD 5.1 and DTS) and Chinese sub-titles.

categories Dvds, Cinematical