Skin Trade, 2014.
Directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham.
Starring Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, Peter Weller, Michael Jai White and Celina Jade.
After his family is killed by a Serbian gangster with international interests, NYC detective Nick goes to S.E. Asia and teams up with a Thai detective to get revenge and destroy the syndicates human trafficking network.
This long gestating passion project for Dolph Lundgren has finally come to fruition. Originally conceived around 7 years ago when Lundgren read a news story about human trafficking, he’s had a long road waiting for the right circumstances to get the film made. Initially the plot was to take place between New York and Eastern Europe, and at one point even Steven Seagal was tentatively rumoured as a co-star. However after working in Thailand on a film with Tony Jaa (the yet unreleased, A Man Will Rise) Lundgren decided his co-star of choice for Skin Trade should be Jaa, whilst the story shifted to South East Asia to accommodate that.
Aside from taking inspiration for a story to tell, Lundgren has taken an active role in trying to raise awareness over the sex trafficking industry, working with CAST (Coalition to abolish slavery and trafficking). The ultimate goal of Skin Trade is to deliver what action fans will expect from a Lundgren and Jaa team up, but also make the audience take a moment of consideration for the real life counterparts to the fictional victims of this film. The difficulty in striking such a balance is immense of course as this is by no means a thinking man’s sort of film.
Skin Trade sees Lundgren as Nick Cassidy, a New York cop on the trail of Vicktor Dragovic, a Serbian gangster and trafficking kingpin. After a raid, in which Cassidy kills one of Dragovic’s sons, Dragovic is released on a technicality. He immediately goes after Nick and his family, blowing up their home and killing Nick’s wife and seemingly his teenage daughter too. Dragovic flees to Thailand and Nick follows, looking for revenge. There he runs afoul of some double crossing and crosses paths with local cop Tony (Tony Jaa) before they inevitably team up to take down Dragovic. Okay, so we’ve seen this plot before countless times and it offers nothing new, but of course there are lots of fights and chases to be had.
On the action front Skin Trade delivers. Whilst it’s not as spectacular as you might hope given Jaa’s involvement, it has highlights. A few average shootouts and an okay chase sequence are eclipsed by the headline face offs. Firstly we have Lundgren against Jaa. First a brief skirmish to set the tone for the full on smack down to come shortly after, and it’s this fight which really delivers. It’s everything that Lundgren vs Jet Li should have been in The Expendables. Then we also have Tony Jaa against the often criminally overlooked, Michael Jai White. It’s another really good mano-a-mano. Okay it doesn’t particularly compare well to The Raid 2, or even for a more fair comparison, the fights in Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, but the two main fights are good.
The major problem in Skin Trade is the script. It’s pretty woeful to be honest, even for Lundgren standards. The dialogue is rote and the plot points and twists are all contrived. The logic between getting from points A to B to C etc just feel haphazard, as do the turnarounds with certain characters. Now of course when you see a cover with Lundgren, Jaa, Jai White, Peter Weller and Ron Perlman on the front you’re not going to look on the back and wonder “who wrote this I wonder?” It’s not going to be Shakespeare, but even by genre standards it’s below average.
The cast are mostly fine. Jaa phonetically reads his lines out, struggling with his English, but aside plays the part with some integrity. It’s one of his better performances. For Lundgren it’s a little too by the numbers and not the most interesting of roles he’s had of late. He’s solid enough and still looks the part for this sort of film as he hulks and towers over everyone else. Weller has only a few scenes which he thoroughly chews and spits out with aplomb. Perhaps most disappointing is how underused Perlman is, but of course budget and time obviously didn’t allow for much more. Perlman is such an interesting character actor though, that it’s a shame he wasn’t more engaged in this.
Skin Trade is efficiently made with a nice big screen worthy gloss thanks to the photography of Ben Knott (Daybreakers) and reasonable direction from Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham (Beautiful Boxer). Though despite his arthouse background directs this with a disappointing degree of conventionality, and the editing reeks of studio involvement. This just falls to convention all too often, in what could have been something a little more fresh for this genre.
In all this delivers as a video premiere action film piece of Friday night entertainment. As a piece of important social and moral questioning? Not remotely. That said it will not stop Lundgren in his association with CAST, which is more important than any film he could make.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★