Directed by: Ekachai Uekrongtham
Produced by: Craig Baumgarten
Screenplay by: Dolph Lundgren
Starring: Dolph Lundgren
Michael Jai White
Music by: Jacob Groth
Cinematography by: Ben Nott
Editing by: Victor Du Bois
Studio(s): BMP Productions
SC Films Thailand
Distributed by: Hyde Park International
SC Films Thailand
Release date(s): November 7, 2014 (AFM, premiere)
April 23, 2015 (VOD and Thailand)
May 8, 2015 (United States)
May 25, 2015 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 95 minutes
Production budget: $9 million
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $1, 242 (domestic box-office)
$594, 026 (foreign box-office, five territories)
$968, 113 (domestic video sales)
Today's film up for review is Skin Trade, the American-Thai co-produced action film featuring the first onscreen pairing of B-movie genre stars Dolph Lundgren and Tony Jaa. This is a bit of a passion project for Lundgren, who spent a long time researching and developing the film (he co-writes and co-produces, and originally considered directing). Lundgren plays detective Nick Cassidy (not a typical action protagonist name there...), who after his family are killed by a mobster who runs the largest human trafficking network in the world, tracks him down to Thailand to seek vengeance, with his own former colleagues on his tail, meanwhile this causes trouble in Bangkok for detective Tony Vitayakul (Jaa), who is pursuing his own undercover investigation into the skin trade. Got it? Good!
To start off with the good, it's a solid enough ensemble cast. Not only do you have the interesting pairing of Lundgren and Jaa, but you've got Michael Jai White, who's a good action star, Ron Perlman, who's good in anything (including his villainous turn here as Russian mobster Viktor Dragovic), and Peter Weller, who plays Lundgren's superior and has in his later years developed a particular way of delivering his lines with a blood-curdling level of underlying malice. Also, the action and stunts choreography is of a good standard. Physically as far as fight scenes, Lundgren and Jaa are two polar opposites, one a big strong oak specialising in Kyokushin karate and the other a lightning-fast Muay Thai master, so between the time they spend onscreen against each other (incidentally, Tony Jaa's the only man you could believe as being able to catch a motorcycle-riding Dolph Lundgren on foot) and separately, there's a good chunk of entertaining screen time. Finally, I do have to say I admire those involved for trying to deal with a more serious subject matter than perhaps many genre fans are used to. Dolph Lundgren's a smart man who's not so vain as to deny his ignorance on certain matters (he turned down the directing gig because he wanted to learn more about producing), and spent a lot of time not only developing the film, but getting financiers, scouting for locations. The sincerity behind the intent and purpose comes across onscreen, for the film's tone and atmosphere has a lot less artifice and theatricality that might lend some of these genre flicks to ironic viewings.
That said, while I do think Skin Trade a serviceable enough action flick, I don't think it quite cuts it as a good quality film. While I admire them for trying to tackle a serious topic, in my opinion the filmmakers do not fully delve into the true horrors of human trafficking. Not only that, but sometimes it comes across as mere window dressing in order to try and distinguish it in some way from the fairly run-of-the-mill action movie that it is. Occasionally when the film goes off track, we are reminded in some fairly blatant way "oh, here, in case you forgot, the film's about human trafficking." There's no reason why a martial-arts action film can't do both at the same time; look at The Matrix and it's treatise(s) on philosophy, or the Bruce Lee film Fist Of Fury, which to a certain extent is a martial-arts equivalent to Hamlet. Also, I know the film is a low-budget production, but there's no good reason why the locations that are meant to be New Jersey look so cheap. The interiors especially look poorly cobbled together. Finally, I know the old philosophy of 'hide the negatives, accentuate the positives,' but once again, I'm getting fed up of low-budget movies using ugly, murky lighting palettes in order to mask any flim-flam. I just find some of it visually unpleasing to the eye, and there's no reason why ingenuity can't work around these things.
Skin Trade is a film I'm in two minds about. On the one hand, I found it to be a relatively enjoyable and serviceable action film featuring a solid ensemble cast, strong action/stunts choreography and I admired the intent behind Dolph Lundgren's passion to tackle a serious theme. However, the other hand also says that the thematic content ended up being window dressing for a run-of-the-mill action film, instead of an equal partner in the equation, that some of the New Jersey based interior scenes looked cheap as hell, and that at times visually it had an ugly lighting palette that was unpleasing to the eye.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.0/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Screaming For Vengeance (listening to Judas Priest)