Skin Trade (2014)

Reviewed by Scott Blasingame
November 10, 2015


Dolph Lundgren • Tony Jaa • Michael Jai White • Celina Jade • Peter Weller • Ron Perlman • Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa • Chloe Babcook • Mike Dopud • Tasya Teles • Leo Rano • David Westerman
Battle Heat
Ekachai Uekrongtham
Diyan Hristov • Weerapong Phumafon
Thailand • Canada
Widescreen. English audio.

Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a movie starring Ivan Drago, Spawn, Robocop, Hellboy, and a martial arts phenomenon out Thailand? Well, SKIN TRADE is that film.

Nick (Dolph Lundgren) is a New York City cop, brought in by his superior Costello (Peter Weller), to assist a task force bent on arresting Viktor (Ron Perlman), the head of a Serbian family cartel that specializes in the selling of young women. Tony Vitayakul (Tony Jaa), a Thai police officer, has a personal vendetta against those who traffic young girls. His girlfriend is Min (Celina Jade), a woman who has firsthand experience with such things, as she has been a victim of it herself. Through her, he learns and forwards a tip that a ship, called the Cambodian Star, will be docking in NYC. In on the bust is Reed (Michael Jai White), a special agent of the FBI. During the raid things go awry, and Viktor’s youngest son is slain by Nick. Though arrested, Viktor is soon out on bail and flees to Cambodia, but not before setting up a hit on Nick. He survives, but his family is murdered, and he takes it upon himself to go to the Far East and track Viktor down. Reed pursues him, enlisting Tony’s aid to catch Nick before he can do something he shouldn’t. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse that causes Tony to question his alliances. Regardless, the goal is to catch Viktor, who is determined that nothing will stand in the way of his illicit enterprise of trafficking sex slaves.

Sex trafficking is a blight on the society of mankind. It’s unimaginable that there are people who are so callous regarding common decency towards their fellow human beings, that they view them as a viable means to amass wealth and power. It’s not isolated to one corner of the world, but instead is actually a global epidemic. The sad fact is that not only are naïve young women lured into situations where they are taken advantage of and kidnapped, but are even sold into it by their parents, particularly those steeped in poverty. That these innocents are considered nothing more than a commodity to be bought and sold or traded…well, it’s not just a shame. It’s despicable. Actually, there are no words to aptly convey the level of atrocity this is. The film contains some rather disturbing scenarios, and some might feel that it is unduly objectifying women by showing such. The fact of the matter is that the women are being objectified, and in the worst possible sense, because that’s what sex trafficking does. How else could the point be emphasized, unless it is depicted in such a way so as to make you uncomfortable, and stir your righteous indignation?

The story is simply told, and the players act out their roles well. You can’t help but like Nick. He’s a dedicated cop who wants to catch the bad guy, and when it becomes personal, he’s determined that nothing will stop him. Lundgren helped with the script, and served as one of the producers. His character suits him well. Jaa is the same, and his stake is that the woman he loves was once subjected to this sort of victimization. Wisely, his role is largely an action one, though he has limited speaking parts. While he doesn’t have the best delivery, he invests them with emotion. Perlman makes for a good villain. He’s cold and ruthless regarding everyone and everything, except his family, and he means to create a criminal dynasty to pass on to his sons. He’s scary, and you want him to get what’s coming to him. Weller’s time on screen is limited, but he makes the most of it. And White? You can’t help but like this guy. His character is a professional, who is just as intent as Nick is on getting his man. But is it the same one?

Action wise, the film delivers, and at a good pace, too. For me, it had that feel of the 80’s action movies, which I found most enjoyable. There are a few chase sequences, and a lot of gunfights. Jaa handles most of the physical action. His agility is on display, though not like what we’re accustomed to seeing in his Thai films. A little more of that would’ve been nice, but I didn’t feel cheated. White gets to shine a little bit, and I wish he’d been used a more. Most of Dolph’s action scenes were shootouts, though he has his moments. Speaking of which…

There are about 6 major fight scenes throughout the film. As I said, Jaa handles each and every one of them, with the exception of a short one featuring White. For the most part, they’re really good. The problem is that sometimes there are too many quick cuts that interrupt the flow, making the choreography seem a little abbreviated in execution, and they’re often filmed a tad too close for my taste. I like to be able to really see an unhindered display of the choreography, less tightly-framed shots, and for the editing to be less snappy. I guess that’s just me being nitpicky. It still delivers the goods, I just have my own ideas of how the arrangement should go. Regardless, Jaa stomps heads with vicious executions of elbows and knees that make you wince. Of course, the two standout fights are the ones between Jaa and Lundgren, and Jaa and White.

The Jaa and Lundgren fight is really good. It, too, suffers in the editing department, which mars the choreography, And you can sometimes tell when they are being doubled. It’s quite brutal, almost more of a brawl really, though still stylistic with Jaa’s Muay Thai on display. What I really enjoyed here is that we get to see some of Dolph’s own kickboxing in action, and I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that. They are evenly matched, though Jaa seems to land more hits.

However, the best fight is the one between Jaa and White. Oh, my word! No doubling here! Both fighters are powerful and lethal, with Jaa’s characteristic nimbleness. The editing is far better, with fewer cuts, and the camera hangs back as well it should. The choreography is fast and smooth, and the exchanges and impacts are hard-hitting. The finishing move is sudden and unexpected.

This film isn’t meant to be a social commentary on sex trafficking, but that doesn’t mean it’s using such a vile subject for the purpose of sensationalism. It just happens to be an action film that adroitly touches on its undeniable and loathsome existence. It is by no means perfect, and could have been better in some regards. But again, it’s an action movie, and it serves a fitting end to the villain that is rightly deserved. Most of us like a little vengeance mixed with our justice, and this film delivers that. When your trade is the skin of the innocent, it’s going to cost you your own. That’s the way it ought to be.