SKIN ART seems to be the work of a second-rate film school grad who's decided to try for easy money doing exploitation cinema but can't get over the idea that he's some sort of artist. Feverishly conceived but soporifically executed, this pretentious, S&M-driven skin flick wants to make a
thematic equation between art and pain. It's painful, all right, but it's not art.
A master with his tattoo needle, Will (Kirk Baltz) specializes in decorating the torsos of brand new hookers headed for Madame Cho's House of Pleasure, a bordello managed by brutal pimp Richard (Jake Weber). Will's an anguished, boozing loner who pours all his energies into his art. Indifferent
to his clients, whom he regards as nothing more than living canvases, soul-dead Will feels unexpected stirrings when he's hired to tattoo the virginal Lily (Nora Arrifin). The sight of this innocent Oriental flower sends Will into a tailspin of flashbacks depicting his agonies as a P.O.W. during
the Vietnam War, when he was bedeviled and controlled by Sophia (Hil Cato) under orders from a disfigured commandant (Broughton Douglas). Increasingly moonstruck by Lily's fragile loveliness and her tales of incestuous molestation by her suicidal uncle, Will falls so hard for the orphan call girl
that he disguises himself and savagely beats Richard. Just as the angst-ridden artist was once powerless to save Sophia (whom he loved in a Stockholm syndrome kind of way), so, too, Will cannot rescue the bought-and-paid-for Lily from prostitution. After their one unforgettable night of love, Lily
belongs to all men.
Far from stimulating the viewer, this meretricious erotic shocker leaves one in a virtual state of locomotor ataxia. What's so stupefying here isn't the hamhanded attempt to impose psychic/artistic meaning on S&M exploitation (tattoo needle equals phallus equals camera--get it?), or even the
cavalierly vicious treatment of Asian women, which is supposed to function as critique or guilty pleasure, depending on the viewer's sensibilities. The really stunning thing about SKIN ART is its remarkably sustained and comprehensive awfulness. Hardened veterans of straight-to-video may be able
to put up with the superficial camera gymnastics and excruciating faux-poetic dialogue, but it's impossible to excuse the absolute contempt for plausibility evidenced throughout the film, which might have succeeded as unintentional low camp if the whole thing weren't so dreary. Just how many
prisoners of war wound up tied up all alone in a mansion with a Viet Cong Mata Hari? How many Communist leaders look like understudies from a Phnom Penh little theater production of Phantom of the Opera? Is that disfigured Colonel a symbol of corruptive patriarchy? Or maybe the futility of war? Or
is it merely that there weren't any plastic surgeons working in the vicinity of Da Nang? Are Will's ropes really meant to be read as the shackles of creativity? Do we all need to be tortured spread-eagled on a bed in order to become authentic artists?
If suffering is indeed a prerequisite for creative achievement, aspiring artists could do worse than giving SKIN ART a try. This cinematic torture is absolutely merciless. (Graphic violence, extreme profanity, extensive nudity, sexual situations, substance abuse.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1994
- Rating: R
- Review: SKIN ART seems to be the work of a second-rate film school grad who's decided to try for easy money doing exploitation cinema but can't get over the idea that he's some sort of artist. Feverishly conceived but soporifically executed, this pretentious, S&M-… (more)