I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Skin Trade

tn_skintradeSKIN TRADE (actually written as SKINTRADE on screen) is the long-awaited passion project of Dolph Lundgren, who produced and wrote the screenplay with Gabriel Dowrick (an editor and sometimes director) and Steven Elder (an actor who was in GALLOWWALKERS). Over the years Dolph had sometimes planned to direct it himself, sometimes not to act in it, at one point possibly to have Steven Seagal co-star. Eventually he handed over the reins to Ekachai Uekrongtham, director of BEAUTIFUL BOXER and PLEASURE FACTORY, which is about the sex industry in Singapore. To Dolph SKIN TRADE is an attempt to raise awareness about the problem of sex trafficking. For me it is an achievement in having a movie that stars Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa and Michael Jai White.

Dolph plays Nick Cassidy, an NYPD detective who gets himself into trouble by gunning down Serbian gangster Dragovic (Ron Perlman, sort of reprising his character from POLICE ACADEMY: MISSION TO MOSCOW)’s prettiest son two seconds after he yells “I will prove to you… I AM MY FATHER’S SON!”

Just another day on the job, you would think, but next thing you know some dudes fire an RPG into Nick’s living room window and he wakes up in the hospital with the side of his face melted and no wife or daughter in his burned down house.

Meanwhile Tony Jaa plays Tony, an undercover cop on a crusade against Dragovic’s sex slavery ring in Cambodia and Thailand. We first meet him wearing a nice suit and being threatened at gunpoint to have sex with a young kidnapped child. He fakes like he’s gonna do it but instead he pulls out his belt to use as a weapon to beat up every sorry sex slaving piece of garbage in the room and dangle their cowering leader (Gigi Velicitat, ELEPHANT WHITE, THE MARINE 2, STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN LI) off the side of the building until he tells them where their next shipment of human cargo is headed. And then he drops him anyway. The guy probly shouldn’t have offered him that freebie on sex slaves in my opinion. That was his mistake.

When Nick decides to get out of his hospital bed, tear off the bandages, shoot himself up with painkillers and stumble out of there, the FBI, for reasons I did not quite understand, gets Tony to track him down. So there is chasing and fighting and eventually they figure out (duh) they’re on the same side and they beat the shit out of some bad people using fists, knees, elbows, guns, etc. Not the belt, he only uses the belt at the beginning. Also not elephant bones, that was only in THE PROTECTOR/TOM YUM GOONG that he used elephant bones.

The main FBI agent is Reed, played by the great Michael Jai White. His boss is played by Peter Weller, so there are a couple history-making scenes of RoboCop and Android Cop on screen together. Keep that in mind, Library of Congress. White wears a suit and tie for the whole movie, which I haven’t seen him do before, and it’s funny because he looks way too buff to be wearing a suit all the time unless he’s holding a microphone on the side of a football field.

mp_skintradeI would also like to note that Robo and Andro visit Nick in the hospital for some brief exposition and then politely dismiss themselves. I never thought about this before, but I’ve spent alot of time in hospitals over the last year, and I realize now that in movies people only have like a minute or two to do a hospital visit and then they have to leave. In my experience you feel like you gotta stay there for a long time because the person is stuck in there and you feel like an asshole just taking off right away.

Anyway, we got a couple of Dirty Harries here, because just like Tony dropped that guy off the building Nick goes into a restaurant to get information out of some connected rich people, and he just casually blows a bunch of them away with a shotgun and then firebombs the place as he exits. (No time for a Yelp review.) Reed says “We think Nick is suffering from a severe psychological breakdown.”

c-htActually he’s just very serious about tracking and killing Dragovic. That’s his passion project. Revenge is to Nick as SKIN TRADE is to Dolph. But Dragovic is hiding out under the protection of a senator played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, whose support is assured through the use of blackmail sex pics. On a meta level this is an important scene because C-HT was the main villain that Dolph faced in both SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO and BRIDGE OF DRAGONS. Now Dolph is facing an enemy so dangerous that C-HT is scared of him and does his bidding.

But let’s be honest here, nobody watching cares as much about killing Dragovic as about who of the three main stars are gonna fight each other. SPOILERS: we get Jaa vs. Lundgren times two and Jaa vs. MJW. No MJW vs. Lundgren. As this fight card reveals, Reed turns out to be a traitor, so he’s basically a less developed version of MJW’s crooked cop character in EXIT WOUNDS. And for the record MJW has now been a bad guy who fights Jaa, Seagal, Van Damme (in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN), Michelle Yeoh (SILVER HAWK) and I think Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Jerry Trimble although I haven’t seen LION STRIKE or FULL CONTACT (1993) to verify.

Jaa gets in the most fighting of anyone, and there’s a definite Thailand feel to the action, though I don’t think it’s Jaa’s usual collaborators. The “action and stunt choreographer” is Dian Hristov, Dolph’s stunt double in the EXPENDABLES movies. But you see alot of the supporting actors that are in other American productions shot in Thailand. I recognized one of the sleazeball kidnapper guys as Sahajak Boonthanakit, who I just saw as goofy comic relief Bolo in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS 2, and he was also in THE MARINE 2. Also IMDb says Conan Stevens is in it, but I somehow missed him. He’s from Australia and best known as an orc in the HOBBIT pictures, but he was also in some Thai movies like MUAY THAI GIANT and FORCE OF FIVE.

There’s a pretty cool Jaa on foot vs. Dolph on a motorcycle chase, but it suffers from being in either a similar or the same location as the outdoor market where Jaa did the famous foot chase in ONG BAK. You can’t help but notice that he doesn’t do anything as impressive as jumping through the ring of barb wire and all that shit, although it’s cool that he runs across the rooftops and then plays chicken with the motorcycle.

In his first scene Dolph is out of breath from trying to chase a guy on foot. I wondered if this was gonna be the start of his Clint style Old Man Period, but I don’t mind that it turns out to just be standard Dolph. Like Arnold he’s an amazing larger-than-life, cover-of-a-pulp-novel type specimen who only looks cooler every time he cracks a new wrinkle or sprouts another grey hair (or in this case has burns on his face).

Other than his one-line henchman role in FURIOUS SEVEN this is Jaa’s English language debut. So I like that his character is just “Tony,” like when Jackie Chan played “Jackie” in DRAGONS FOREVER, the dub of OPERATION CONDOR, MR. NICE GUY and maybe some other ones. He gets to do part of his role in Thai, and doesn’t talk that much, which is good because his English dialogue is pretty awkward. I believe he can speak it but most of his lines here sound like he just learned them phonetically.

As a martial arts performance it’s not surprisingly a step down from all his Thai movies including the most recent one, THE PROTECTOR 2, but it’s better than what I expect from Asian martial artists going Hollywood. For example his second fight with Dolph is pretty much what I wanted out of Dolph’s fight with Jet Li in THE EXPENDABLES. It shows them clearly. It emphasizes the size difference and gives them opposing fighting styles and strengths. Dolph overpowers with brute strength. He kicks through boards and repeatedly bashes Tony in the face with sledge-hammer-like fists. Tony has to start climbing and leaping off of rails and columns to compensate for his height and chip away at the giant with his trademark flying knee and elbow moves.

MJW also has a strength advantage, but does his powerful spinning kicks and super hero type poses. Lots of grabbing Jaa and flipping him, or kicking him through boards. Both have very distinct ways of moving and hitting and they go at each other for quite a while before one of them wears out. Yeah, Jai v Jaa: Dawn of Jastice is definitely the highlight of the movie.

Of course it’s always kinda anticlimactic when you got a great martial artist as the secondary villain and just a dude as the primary. To their credit though they found an original way for a helicopter to crash. It doesn’t blow up, it just hits the ground and rolls around with the rotors hitting the ground. That was cool.

Despite these strong points, SKIN TRADE is not as entertaining as I hoped for from this great cast. Because Lundgren is so serious about the subject matter he avoids the type of humor and absurdity that enliven his best movies. This would be okay if it had a really strong sense of tone and atmosphere like Lundgren’s work with John Hyams (who IMDb says did an uncredited rewrite, by the way) but it’s pretty standard, and I don’t see how the portrayal of sex traffickers is any different from a thousand other action movies with the same type of bad guys. But the seriousness also prevents having a more colorful, enjoyable villain than a standard cold-hearted gangster.

Lundgren has done buddy team-ups before: with Louis Gossett Jr. in THE PUNISHER, Brian Benben in I COME IN PEACE, Brandon Lee in SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO. In all of these they have some kind of chemistry, personality conflict and comedic rapport. But here Dolph and Tony start out sort of in separate movies and when they get together they’re not a mismatched team, they’re just two different sizes and accents of over-the-line vigilante cops.

I’m not gonna cry about it though. It’s still pretty fuckin cool to see them together. And they’ll get a another chance to fight each other because they already did another movie called A MAN WILL RISE, where I think Dolph is the bad guy. And this one ends on a weird cliffhanger-ish note, so they could potentially be buddies again in SKIN TRADE 2: SKINT RAID. In my opinion they are for sure the new Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

NOTE: I watched this on Video On Demand through my cable company, but it will be playing in a few theaters starting May 8th.

acr_skintrade

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Monday, April 27th, 2015 at 12:06 pm and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

22 Responses to “Skin Trade”

  1. The Original Paul

    April 27th, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Man, the trailer for this one looked really good. I’ll still look out for it for Dolph, Jaa, Perlman and of course MJW (his deleted scene in KILL BILL vol 2 not withstanding, I don’t think I’ve seen a bad performance from him yet.) Even if the movie is fairly standard, there’s gotta be SOMETHING in that particular combination for me. I’m hoping. Honestly Vern’s review reminds me of a less twisty / jokey version of EXIT WOUNDS, which is a film I like a lot more than I probably should. That’s not necessarily a good thing, since the twists and the jokes of EXIT WOUNDS are what keep me hooked whenever I watch it. (Yes, I quite like Anthony Anderson’s schtick in that movie. And it’s not even unprecedented – the sole redeeming thing that CRADLE 2 THE GRAVE has going for it is that scene where Anderson gets to seduce a gay security guard. And they don’t even finish the movie by showing the two of them on a date together. Yet another reason why C2tG sucked. Now you can judge me if you want.) Anyway… EXIT WOUNDS was a fairly mediocre action movie that had enough twists, turns, and intentional laughs to keep me interested. And it doesn’t sound like SKIN TRADE has those things going for it.

    Still waiting for that one Dolph film where I get to see him play the genius loner tactician who can hack any computer, pick any lock, and loot any secure area, leaving no trace he’d ever been there except for the two dead guards on the floor (one of which was on his way to his twenty-first birthday party that same night, the other had three days left until his retirement). Dolph’s such a big, imposing guy that he keeps getting cast as the meathead, but I’ve never thought of him as being that way in real life, and I’d like to see his on-screen persona be a bit closer to his real-life one for once. I think the closest I’ve ever seen him get before now would either be BLACKJACK (which is pretty good, but he’s still just a well-trained bodyguard in it) or that sniper movie with Gina Bellman (can’t even remember the name of it now, but it was really awful).

  2. “Jai v Jaa: Dawn of Jastice”… Well done sir

  3. Definitely not as good as expected for me. Every time an Asian star does an English language movie it seems like the director has no clue how to film that Asian star. Happened with Jackie Chan, it happened with Jet Li, and it’s the same thing with Tony Jaa. You’ve to pull that camera back and let him do what he does best. This was pretty disappointing to me. The story is muddled and the action is not really all that exciting. When Jaa pulled out his belt in the beginning it seemed like a classic Tony Jaa move, but then the execution of the scene made it far less exciting then it should have been. I felt like this movie wasted both Jaa and MJW. Tony Jaa has a Chinese action movie called SPL 2 coming up, and it looks like that’s where I’ll have to finally get some good Tony Jaa action from. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3Z4unB9Gqg

  4. A little warning on the character-specific spoilers, next time please, Vern? I was thinking there was a lot of detail in there on story, but it was probably just first act type stuff, but then you drop the thing about “fight card”(not sure what that means) reveal.

  5. Sorry Stu. I did write spoilers before that part, but I guess I didn’t bold it. I didn’t think it was a major spoiler because I had already heard from commenters here that those two actors fight each other, which makes it easy to guess what will happen.

  6. People keep going on that Hollywood doesn’t know how to shoot Tony Jaa, but i think they are forgetting that this was directed by a Thai, and also its well known that Tony Jaa is not the martial artist he once was.

    Just watch Tom Yum Goong 2 (The Protector 2/Warrior King 2) to notice that he has aged quite a bit and doesn’t seem to be willing to any of the crazy shit that he did in the past. I thought he was still pretty impressive in Skin Trade, and at least got a fair share of the action unlike he did in Fast and the Furious 7. It was also better than the last 3 Thai movies that he ahs made.

  7. A little disappointed that Celina Jade didn’t get to do some martial arts stuff. We know she has skills during her ARROW stint.

  8. Daron – It’s probably not fair to damn Jaa for not doing the same kind of insane stunts he did a decade or more ago. I don’t want to fault the guy for, you know, deciding he doesn’t want to die.

    Jaa got a few cool moves in Furious 7, but in such an overstuffed film, he was also underutilized. Although, we don’t know what happened after he fell down that elevator shaft, so maybe he will come back in one of the sequels?

  9. If I don’t see a body lying there with its eyes open, I assume nobody died.

    Even funerals are suspect. Letty had a funeral and look how that worked out. Show me the corpse’s eyeballs, that’s what I always say.

  10. RBatty024 – Im not damning Jaa for not wanting to die. I was complaining more of the people that still expect that kind of stuff from him, knowing that he has gotten older and isn’t in the same shape that he once was.

    Still think the guy is great, but it is not just his stunt work that isn’t up to scratch any more. You can visibly see how tired he appears in Ong Bak 3 to when he made the first movie, and seems to have lost quite a bit of the physique he had. I know this is down to some of the troubles he had during the production, and all the crap that is still ongoing can’t be giving the poor guy an easy time.

  11. The movie was directed by a Thai director, however that director is not know for action of any kind. This was clearly intended for a western audience and had the look of a shitty dtv made by a western director. They obviously hired this director because they thought he would do a better job with the dramatic side of the film. What they got was a muddled story and muddled action which=mediocre at best movie.

    While I know Jaa has gotten up there in age, there is no way you are going to tell me if that scene with the belt was shot better it wouldn’t have been a better scene and more of a straight Tony Jaa scene. All of his best stuff isn’t necessarily about him doing ridiculous stunts, but more about the brutality and gracefulness of his muay thai. The trailer for SPL shows better fights in 2 minutes then anything in the entirety of Skin Trade. Even the limited stuff he did in Furious 7 was better and you could barely see anything.

  12. I enjoyed this movie quite abit, the action was clear and not shaky at all. Definitely cut way too much though. Acting was alright but Jaa was pretty stilted. For a DTV movie this is some damn good shit. I loved the way they took out the chopper, creative and not as expensive as just blowing one the fuck up. Dolph is still just killing it, we should enjoy it while we can, I dread the day he starts getting at Seagal with the stunt men, but Seagal has a reason, Fat and Old will do that to a man. Anyway SEE THIS MOVIE! Its basically Ong-Bak and Wellman Santee VS Spawn and Hellboy…Michael Jai White punches a man with his chest,

  13. All Seagl with the stuntmen*

  14. Fuck it

  15. The Original Paul

    April 29th, 2015 at 1:24 am

    Oh, and I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned Perlman yet (other than Vern saying he was basically reprising his role from POLICE ACADEMY: MISSION TO MOSCOW. Also, ouch.) From the trailer at least he seemed like his performance would be one of the main draws of the movie. Is he that uninteresting in it?

  16. Daron – I hear what you’re saying, but I still think he’s a phenomenal martial artist, even if he’s toned it down a bit. What I really loved about his Thai films was the fact that his own personality and interests were always showcased, which is something that likely won’t happen in any American productions he might star in.

  17. RBatty024 – I still think he’s a great martial artist as well, even though he has toned down a bit. I said in my last post that he didn’t look as good in Ong Bak 3 as he had done before. I meant to add that he did look a lot better in Skin Trade than he has in a while. He is still one of the better martial artists on screen, probably third down from Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen. I loved his first three Thai films that he was the main star in (Ong Bak, Tom Yum Goong, Ong Bak 2), but felt that the other 2 were disappointing. Of course this was more down to the production companies interference and his own personal problems at the time. The problem now is that I don’t think we will get a chance to see him star in any more Thai productions, what with all the crap that has been happening with him and Sahamongkol. Hers hoping that his other film with Dolph “A Man will Rise” still has a chance of a release.

  18. Vern- Well in the context of the story you gave up to that point, it would make sense for those two to fight if the subject was just doing his job and trying to bring a couple of loose cannons in. But I don’t want to harp on it too much. It’s not that big a deal.

  19. if you have $5 and DOLPH LUNDGREN has $5, he has more than you do.

  20. I liked what Dolph was going for in this with his war on sex-trafficking. There’s a scene near the end at the shipping yard where Dolph discovers dozens of sex slaves cooped up, and the camera follows him as he surveys the women with this look of horror on his face, right before he turns the AK on their captors and I thought yeah, you go big guy! Obviously I don’t know Lundgren personally, but I reckon he’s got a big jelly-centered heart beneath all that brawn.

    In terms of realism about the human-trafficking industry, well, it was the kick-arse action hero version, which is not a complaint because ST worked as a genre film, but the film EDEN which Vern recommended a while back was a good serious-minded look at that world. But what struck me in SKIN TRADE was the revelation that not all the girls are kidnapped. Some are sold by their own parents.

    I happen to know a guy who works for a rescue organization where he goes into Asian countries and rescues one girl at a time from brothels. I’d love to be able to share how they do it (sadly without AK’s and knives), but the less said the better. The recovery rates are extraordinary.

    I also liked the unresolved ending. This could be Dolphs’s TAKEN trilogy, as he makes war on global sex-trafficking while he (spoilers for Stu)searches for his daughter.

  21. I watched this last night and was rather disappointed. The story tried to do much with not enough development to really back it up. For as complex a plot as they seemed to be going for, it deserved to be at least 20 minutes longer. However, I don’t really think that most people intent on watching it would have appreciated that. The fighting was passable for me too, but the editing was noticeably better whenever Tony Jaa was in the scene. As for Michael Jai White, if memory serves me correctly, he only played the fight announcer in FULL CONTACT, and so didn’t actually fight anyone. Still, it’s a hilariously bad movie so you should still see it. I believe it’s only on VHS still, but not too pricey.

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