Some fans dream of the ultimate team ups, like De Niro and Pacino, The Rock and Vin Diesel, or The Expendables. When they get all the Marvel superheroes in The Avengers, they dream of who else could join them and now they’ll get Spider-Man. For me, Skin Trade is a who’s who of badass actors teamed up. Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa and Michael Jai White have been making some of the most entertaining movies you only see on video these days. They’re only missing Scott Adkins in Skin Trade.
Lundgren plays a cop trying to put an end to human trafficking, but when he busts a kingpin (Ron Perlman), they come after his family. He goes to Thailand where a Thai cop (Jaa playing a character named Tony, like Jackie Chan plays characters named Jackie) is after the same traffickers. White plays a cop on Lundgren’s squad and he gets to fight too. Thanks to some corruption and frame-ups, both Lundgren and White get to fight Jaa.
This isn’t a full Tony Jaa movie like Ong Bak or Tom yum goong, so there are no eight minute full Muay Thai fights. It’s more like a sampling of Tony Jaa, the way Rush Hour sampled Jackie Chan for American audiences, but didn’t go full Hong Kong style. It’s more of a taste of Jaa than Lethal Weapon 4 was for Jet Li, and Jaa still does moves you’ll never see in Hollywood.
They rightfully made Jaa vs. Lundgren the centerpiece fight of the film. It benefits from the most intricate choreography. Lundgren can fight back but he’s big and lumbering. Jaa is more elegant and surgical. White vs. Jaa gets sufficient attention too. The rest of the action is more mini-fights and shootouts, though it’s pretty destructive. Lundgren tears through bars and clubs shattering all the glass in the place. There is also an elaborate foot/motorcycle chase through the city that incorporates Jaa’s moves with forward momentum really well.
I wonder if there’s a way for the action hero in any of these movies to actually prevent their family’s murder. They’ve gotta fight human traffickers, dirty cops and drug dealers, but is there any way to do that without getting your loved ones killed? It’s the revenge conundrum. In order to get revenge, you have to be wronged first. But once you’ve lost loved ones, what is the justice for that? Even if you get the bad guys, you don’t really win.
Skin Trade is not the movie to solve that genre morality. It’s a formula movie, albeit shining light on a less glamorous crime that needs public attention. It delivers the action goods though. I’m completely satisfied by the teamup of three of my favorite action heroes, with the focus on exploiting their strengths and letting the story fall into place around them.