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May 08, 2015

Skin Trade

skin trade 1.jpg

Koo Sat Antarai
Ekachai Uekrongtham - 2015
Magnolia Pictures

Admittedly, Tony Jaa's ability to speak English is stiff. Fortunately, he remains fluent in kicking ass, which he does several times throughout Skin Trade. There may not be the gravity defying balletic moves of Ong-Bak, but as far as I'm concerned, watching Tony Jaa use his Muay Thai skills to punch and kick the bad guys is a thing of beauty.

Originally conceived by star Dolph Lungren, it is an interesting choice that he chose to turn the directorial reigns over to Ekachai Uekrongtham. Most of the film takes place in a series of dark passageways and side streets, dimly lit houses and night clubs. The title refers to human trafficking, and the film is a journey through a kind of hell. The milieu also recalls Ekachai's last film to get U.S. distribution, Pleasure Factory, about prostitutes in a red light section of Singapore.

A New Jersey cop, Nick Cassidy, is in pursuit of Serbian mobster Viktor Dragovic. In collaboration with the F.B.I., there is a successful bust involving Dragovic and a freight container with about thirty young girls. When the container is opened it is enough to see the reaction of Dragovic and one of his sons, and the buzzing of flies, to know that the girls did not survive the long boat trip. Temporarily imprisoned, Dragovic is released long enough to flee the U.S. He also has someone fire bomb Cassidy's house, apparently killing Cassidy's wife and daughter. In spite of several serious wounds, Cassidy drags himself out of the hospital and onto the next flight to Bangkok, now with personal motivation for finding Dragovic.

That Lungren has a physically powerful presence, even just a few years shy of Sixty, is undeniable. His presence is more interesting with a face that is weatherbeaten, and deeply lined, providing an unstated back story of a life as a test of physical endurance, pain, and humanity. Lungren was also smart in knowing that surrounding himself with top actors is always an asset. Aside for Tony Jaa, there is the consistently reliable Ron Perlman as Dragovic, Michael Jai White as the F.B.I. agent who works with Cassidy, and a brief appearance by Peter Weller, the original RoboCop. Lungren cowrote the screenplay with Gabriel Dowrick and Steven Elder, with uncredited assistance from action auteur John Hyams.

Some of the film takes place in Poipet, a town on the Cambodian side of the Thai-Cambodian border, and reportedly a tourist trap of the worst sort. Even though it may not be intentional, Skin Trade might reenforce the popular conception of Thailand as a place for western men to come get drunk and have cheap sex with possibly underaged girls. To put it in perspective, consider the impression might get of Los Angeles or New York City from watching films like Kiss Me Deadly or While the City Sleeps, classic Fifties film noir.

Skin Trade has ends with the suggestion that there could be a sequel. I certainly hope so.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 8, 2015 06:46 AM