There is no denying that when Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak hit the US it made him an instant martial arts action star. Through his career he hasn’t put out a ton of films, but those that he has always showcase some of the most impressive action out there. With his recent appearance in Furious 7 he will no doubt become bigger here in the states that he already is. His latest film, Skin Trade brings him back to the US with a co-production with Thailand teaming him up with fellow action stars Dolph Lundgren and Michael Jai White along with a decent supporting cast including Ron Perlman, Peter Weller and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. Could this team up prove to be enough to elevate Jaa even higher in the action genre or will it be a fight he just can’t win?
Skin Trade follows a New Jersey detective, Nick Cassidy who heads to Bangkok where he teams up with Thai detective, Tony Vitayakui to hunt down Viktor Dragovic and destroy his human trafficking network. Nick had inadvertently killed Dragovic’s son in a sting operation on the New Jersey docks, and Dragovic responded by attempting to kill Nick and his family. Nick miraculously survived the brutal attack, but his wife and daughter were killed. With nothing but vengeance to live for, Nick and Tony traverse their way through the Bangkok underworld in search of the elusive Dragovic. Through most of Jaa’s previous films he is usually an average guy out for revenge or thrust into a situation he had no interest in being apart of, but here he steps into a different sort of role as a cop. The story is pretty simple and feels very reminiscent of old school action films with some clichéd types of villains and crooked cops, but it all still works well together. Jaa is given a lot more to do here as an actor getting the chance to stretch his emotional range along with the action and does a decent job. Lundgren has played these sorts of roles his whole career so steps in with little to no issues. The rest of the cast do a fine job with Perlman being the perfect villain and doing a decent job with his Russian accent for the most part. Michael Jai White doesn’t have a lot to do with his character who is pretty straight forward, but when given the chance to cut loose is fun to watch.
Of course the real reason anyone watches a film like this is for the action and this film has plenty of it. Jaa brings his usual insane flare to the table, but is a bit more toned down than his previous films, but in a way that makes more sense for this type of film. A lot of the action early in the film is either gun play or some average fight scenes, its not until later in the film that they really get to cut loose. As seen in the trailers, there is a sequence with Jaa vs Lundgren and Jaa vs White and neither disappoint. Jaa is already an impressive martial artist, but these two men tower over him making the sequences all the more awesome to watch. What makes them all the better is that they allow both sides to shine and let them just beat the crap out of each other. While these are not the only good fight scenes of the film they are the best in both execution and choreography.
This is far from a perfect film as there are some bad cuts here and there as well as some not so great action from time to time, but fans of Jaa, Lundgren and/or White will no doubt still enjoy the great action they bring here. This film sets things up for a possible sequel that would be welcomed to get these guys back together, so if you are a fan of these guys and the genre then check this film out and get in on the action.