The same thing applies to something like Only God Forgives. Personally, I loved OGF but it’s a movie I absolutely cannot defend. I see why folks hate it. Although I understand Nicolas Winding Refn’s intentions in trying to mesh the world of arthouse cinema & action cinema (cant you picture Dolph Lundrgen or Van Damme in the role of Gosling?). But at the end of the day it’s very difficult to make an arthouse film for an action crowd and vice versa. The whole theme of the “tough white guy in south east Asia” (which is what Only God Forgives tried to emulate on some level) was a pillar of the straight to cable/straight to video action genre in the early 90’s, and many folks felt Refn didn’t pull that off well.
But Skin Trade was a success in my book. It brought back the late 80’s/early 90’s style of action film where men tossed away their guns like disposable lighters in favor of fighting hand-to-hand with each other (every time someone threw their gun away Skin Trade I was reminded of the dialogue between Jim Jarmusch & Harvey Keitel in Blue In The Face where they discuss this very same phenomenon).
Skin Trade also features rogue police officers just breaking the law at every turn; rocket launchers; men just being savages (the film is centered around the trafficking of young girls by gross, greasy villainous men); and we get protagonist police officers just killing suspects even after they’ve been subdued & captured. Who needs to bring in the bad guys for additional questioning, right? They’re scum and they deserve to die (at the beginning of the film we see Tony Jaa drop a guy off a building and later on he kills one of the main villains even after he’s been defeated). In real life I hold police to a higher standard (a standard they usually don’t come close too) but in movieland, rapists, pedophiles & traffickers deserve to be murdered on sight. That’s the kind of action movie I grew up on (not to show my age, but I hope younger critics & bloggers appreciate the fact that Lundgren & Cary-Hiroyuki are still collaborating with each other decades after Showdown In Little Tokyo).
Part of the plot to Skin Trade comes right out of Hard To Kill (a movie I remember HBO playing on a continuous loop as a kid back in 1990/1991)...
In Skin Trade Dolph Lundgren plays “Nick Cassidy” – a dedicated police officer on the trail of “Viktor Dragovic” (Ron Perlman) – a Serbian gangster who runs a human trafficking ring operating out of south-east Asia. In the first act of the film Cassidy’s family is executed which causes him to go rogue and extract revenge (very similar to Segal in Hard To Kill). Additionally, the relationship between Lundgren’s Cassidy & Jaa’s “Tony Vitayakul” is similar to Lundgren & Brandon Lee in Showdown In Little Tokyo (in the final act of Skin Trade we see Jaa & Lundgren team up in order to take down Dragovic’s operation).
This film has been described as Lundgren’s “passion project” and I can see that. The script is solid and there is an obvious socio-political angle all throughout the film (poverty and the trafficking of young girls) but it doesn’t get in the way of the action (let's be honest, we all care more about the roundhouse kicks & incredible stunts than we do the serious political stuff). This was my beef with the first Expendables. The entire middle part got too caught up in the impoverished South American country (I understand Stallone & Statham needed motivation to carry out their mission, but that entire section could have been heavily edited down in my opinion). With Skin Trade there’s a lot of gun fire, one-on-one fighting (it would have been nice to see Lundgren go toe-to-toe with Jai White but oh well...), cool stunts and men slowly walking away from exploding buildings in the background. And, most importantly, Skin Trade has replay value (for me at least). After watching it at home, I found myself watching it again on my phone on the subway (I know that’s not the preferred way to view a movie but it's a testament to how entertaining it is. Plus my iPhone 6 screen is pretty big). These days I don’t watch too many new movies back-to-back. Perhaps my enthusiasm for Skin Trade has to do with the fact that I don’t watch too many action packed straight-to-video movies like I used too, and this is just a breath of fresh air from all the arthouse movies I watch (I also have to give credit to Mad Max: Fury Road for restoring my enthusiasm in the action genre). I recommend Skin Trade to those Gen-Xers & older millennials that truly appreciate the style of action film that birthed folks like Loren Avedon, pre-Tai Bo Billy Blanks, Van Damme, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and post-Rocky 4/Pre Johnny Mnemonic Dolph Lundgren.