Thursday, May 7, 2015

Premiere! Skin Trade

It's been an interesting journey going from the guy sitting in the audience to the one helping put things together and standing up front with a microphone. Last night's premiere of Skin Trade was an educational experience as I watched how studios and PR firms handle their business. The courtyard to The Egyptian Theatre was set up with a red carpet and lights with security checking people in at Hollywood Boulevard. #ActionMovieBros David J. Moore from World Gone Wild and The Action Elite's Eoin Friel were there while news outlets like Nerd Reactor, Variety, The Arnold Fans and Starburst magazine had their spots on the red carpet. I ran into co-producer Craig Baumgarten who was on his way to Asia shortly after the premiere. Bloodsport co-writer and Double Impact director Sheldon Lettich was one of my guests for the night and in some near perfect timing, it had been a year and a day since the inaugural Dammaged Goods Presents event, The Van Damme Triple Dip at The New Beverly Cinema. Speaking of Van Damme, Pound of Flesh director Ernie Barbarash was in attendance and walked the red carpet.

A pack of papparazzi was stationed on the Walk of Fame and one by one, our guests for the evening started to arrive. Ron Perlman. Tony Jaa. Director Ekachai Uekrongtham. Celina Jade. Dolph Lundgren. They were joined by the likes of Chuck Zito, Victor Ortiz and Chin Han. An invitation to one Jean-Claude Van Damme was extended but I was told he was too busy with his own impending premiere the next evening. Earlier in the day it was said that Jason Statham planned on attending and we were hoping Michael Jai-White and Peter Weller would swing by if they were in town. It looked like Statham was a no show while Mr. White had just hopped on a plane to London and Mr. Weller must have been predisposed. Apparently Mr. Statham had already snuck into the theater and lo and behold when I went to the waiting area to do the night's introduction, there he was. After a quick hello and shake of hands, where I forgot to invite him to do a movie night, we waited as the cast filed in from outside.

Then it was showtime and after a quick introduction and mic handoff to Dolph, the co-producer, writer and star of the film talked about the origins of the film coming from real world events, having met Tony Jaa a couple of years ago on a Thai comedy, getting the cast, securing financing and then enlisting director Uekrongtham. Dolph got a little more serious in talking about the horrors of real world human trafficking where mostly young women are drugged, beat and raped then put to work. While it seemed like a third world problem, Dolph cited an example of it in nearby Brentwood where a woman was brought to the country and put to work as a nanny. After slipping a note to a fellow nanny and praying for help, a week later a dozen FBI agents arrived and pulled her out. Thanks to C.A.S.T., the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, the young woman was put into a shelter, found new work and eventually married and had a child. That young lady was also in attendance. A special auction to attend the premiere, meet the cast and work out with Dolph netted a whopping $40,000.00 bid the last time I checked. Attending co-stars Jaa, Jade and Perlman joined Dolph up front and then it was movie time.

Skin Trade is the tale of two cops, New Jersey based Nick Cassidy (Lundgren) and Thailand's Tony (Jaa). They're both working cases involving human trafficking and after Cassidy kills the son of drug dealer and trafficker Viktor (Ron Perlman), the Russian boss' remaining sons send a rocket into Nick's suburban house window, killing his wife and daughter. With nothing to lose and vengeance on his mind, Nick shows up in Thailand and tracks Viktor down with extreme interrogation methods including shotgun blasts, mangled joints, front kicks and letter openers to the throat. The two cops face off before realizing they're on the same side and they head into a gunfire and explosion filled confrontation with Viktor and his thugs. The script by Lundgren, Gabriel Dowrick and Steven Elder is pretty straightforward but the attention paid to trafficking is rightly sad and unsettling. Uekrongtham lingers a little long on the bad stuff to set up the world but the picture is extremely crisp, the locale used to great effect and action pretty Damme good.

Michael Jai-White shows up as task force member who gets to show off his meaty physique barely contained by a three piece suit and gets a nice fight with Jaa where he goes full Super-Shredder as he punches, kicks and breaks anything in his way. It's pretty impressive to see a man of his size move so fluidly and performing jump, spinning multiple kicks. Jaa of course whups all kinds of ass from his first scene involving a belt and a balcony and his fights with White and Lundgren are excellently staged. His bout with Lundgren showcases both of their styles, Jaa being smaller and faster, flipping, jumping and kicking 20 feet into the air while Lundgren gets to do a trademark step in side kick, show off some brute strength and his classic rough and tumble karate. The fight scenes were shot pretty wide so you could actually see what was going on and with each star being a lifelong martial artist in his own disciplines, showcased each of their styles. There's an old school harshness to action scenes with Dolph blasting a room full of thugs apart with a shotgun or bludgeoning another with the butt of an AK-47.

The cast is filled with familiar faces from the action genre as Peter Weller (Robocop) and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa (Mortal Kombat) have a few scenes with Lundgren, Jaa, White and Perlman. The ending sets up a sequel so hopefully Skin Trade has been killing it on VOD and will find more success on Blu-Ray. Overall a solid flick elevated by the cast and a handful of stand out action and fight sequences. Following the flick we hopped over to Sadie's across the street for the after party for a few small bites, thank yous and hand shakes before calling it a night. Great times but gotta do it all again tonight, only this time I won't be directing traffic, I'll be part of it.

Many thanks to Magnolia, Magnet, The Egyptian Theatre, Dolph and Craig's teams and everyone who attended. We'll see you on the next one.

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