Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chocolate, hot on the festival circuit, finally finds a U.S. home at Magnet

Back when Chocolate was first released in Thailand, word was that The Weinstein Company had already bought the film for a presumptive place in its Dragon Dynasty line. The presence of TWC exec Bey Logan at the film's world premiere in Bangkok seemed to indicate a deal was clinched.

But things fell apart. The Weinstein tie-up with Sahamongkol Film International was off the table. The film made its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where screenings were packed for both its matinee showing and as the closing Midnight Madness flick, and it wowed the audience.

It went on to Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, picking up more rave reviews, and winning the runner-up prize in the Audience Awards -- second to The Good, The Bad, The Weird, ahead of JCVD. Chocolate, though a huge hit, had no distributor in Hollywoodland.

Now Magnolia Pictures' Magnet Releasing has stepped in. The company will release Chocolate in a theatrical run next year and follow that up with a DVD. Here's the press release:

Magnet announced today that it has acquired North American rights to Prachya Pinkaew’s martial arts actioner Chocolate. Fresh from its successful Toronto Midnight Madness world premiere, the film rolled into Austin’s Fantastic Fest this past weekend andnabbed the Audience Award runner-up prize.

Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior helmer Prachya Pinkaew’s latest pairs him with newcomer Jeeja Vismistananda, in training for five years to play the lead in Chocolate. Jeeja’s performance as an autistic girl who learns Muay Thai via a marathon screening of Tony Jaa and Bruce Lee films announces the addition of a major new talent to the martial arts canon. Featuring death-defying stunts, and a charming newcomer, Chocolate represents Prachya’s proper follow-up to the smash success of Ong Bak.

“Magnet has had a long tradition of debuting action stars like Tony Jaa, Dan Chupong, David Belle, Marko Zaror, and now we’re fortunate enough to launch our first female action star: Jeeja Vismistananda. Chocolate proves Jeeja is as hard hitting as the big boys and fans will be delighted by Prachya’s (Ong Bak’s creator) return to kick ass action,” said Magnolia Senior Vice President Tom Quinn.

The deal was negotiated by Magnolia’s Quinn with Gilbert Lim representing Sahamongkolfilm International. Magnet will release the film theatrically in 2009.

Magnolia shocked everyone back in 2005 by coming out of the gates and picking up Ong Bak for North American distribution. They announced themselves a force to be reckoned with. They also distribute Dynamite Warrior (with Dan Chupong) and recently released Mum Jokmok's The Bodyguard and The Bodyguard 2 (with cameos by Tony Jaa). Another good move by Magnolia was rescuing Wisit Sasanatieng's Tears of the Black Tiger from the old Miramax vaults.

Chocolate was also at the Helsinki fest and at Bite the Mango in the UK, it's at the Bangkok International Film Festival and the film market. It's also going to be at the San Diego Asian Film Festival and at Sitges. A theatrical run in October and DVD and Blu-ray release in November are set for the U.K. (Blu-ray buyers might hold off until region coding on the U.K. disc is made known and to see what Magnet's plans are.) And it's opening in cinemas in Taiwan this week.

(Via Twitch, IndieWire, Screen Daily; photo of Prachya at TIFF '08 via Tuna Flix)

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