Chocolate

Named for the chocolate factory in which autistic teen girl Zen displays her martial arts prowess, Chocolate is the story of how Zen “overcomes her disability” to collect money owed her cancer-striken mother Zin by some rather unsavory characters. Titles at the beginning of the movie explain that it intends to highlight some of the abilities of “special children”, and exhorts their parents to focus on what these extraordinary children could do.

The premise of the film initially sounded rather unbelievable to me; though autistic people are known for their ability to memorize, I doubted that extended to learning kung fu Matrix-style, simply by watching it on TV. Such learning would not address components such as strength, flexibility, and coordination. But when in doubt, ask someone on the spectrum! I consulted @SpectrumScribe (who has their own write-up of Chocolate) and learned that, though it would be rare, Savant Syndrome can indeed manifest in physical abilities as well as mental.

Zen is depicted as something of a Sweet Innocent, dressed in girly flowing dresses and funky hats. Her cousin Moom has been showing off her ability to catch balls thrown at her seemingly without looking at them amid crowds on the street in exchange for tips. (Autistic people often have excellent peripheral vision and sensitive hearing, giving the viewer the impression that Zen is something akin to a superhero.)

But sometimes the onlookers taunt or even assault them, such as when one throws a knife which Zen catches barehanded. Zin is unhappy when Moom exploits her in such ways or when Zen learns to fight by watching kung fu movies on TV, hoping to keep her a Sweet Innocent.

Zen’s communications skills leave something to be desired; she often demands money from her mother’s debtors in a high pitched voice and simple sentences such as “Give Mom’s money”. They don’t always understand what she is referring to right away, and her lack of eye contact sometimes unnerves them. That doesn’t stop them from using physical violence against her, though. In one of her first fight scenes, her “autistic vocalizations” (for lack of a better term) are equated with kiais (battle cries).

Interestingly, in the final battle where Zen (of course) dispatches dozens of her family’s enemies, one of her toughest opponents is a teen boy with what appears to be Tourette’s syndrome. He’s never named, nor do we learn what he’s doing there, but Zen briefly echoes his tics before defeating him.

At the conclusion, Zen’s absent father resurfaces to take care of her, attempting to restore her to the status of Sweet Innocent by dressing her like a child and giving her a pinwheel. One wonders how long she’ll put up such infantilization…

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