Movie Review - Blood: The Last Vampire
By Shalimar Sahota
July 6, 2009

Wanna die?

Directed by – Chris Nahon

Stars - Gianna Jun (Saya), Allison Miller (Alice McKee), Liam Cunningham (Michael), JJ Feild (Luke), Koyuki (Onigen), Colin Salmon (Powell), Larry Lamb (General McKee)

Cert – 18 / R

Length – 90 minutes

Simply having a young Asian girl dressed in a Japanese sailor school uniform, slicing ass in half with a katana is practically an open invitation for young, hot-blooded males to get some wrist action while in the back row of a movie theater. But they'll be disappointed to learn that Blood: The Last Vampire, based on Production I.G's anime of the same name, fails to deliver, even on fan service.

The original anime short was released in 2000, coming across as a supernatural version of Nikita/The Assassin. It left a few unanswered questions, but was nonetheless thrilling. It also spawned a series known as Blood+. This live-action remake brings together a great mixture of cultures. The film presents a Korean actress in the lead (passing for Japanese), with an American actress co-starring, both involved in fight scenes choreographed by a Chinese stunt director, all overseen by a French director. I'm telling you, you couldn't even make this up.

Set in 1970s Tokyo, Saya (Gianna Jun) may look like a 17-year-old schoolgirl, but is actually a 400-year-old "half-ling" (part vampire, part human, all Wesley Snipes). She works for a secret organization known as The Council, led by Michael (Liam Cunningham). They tend to use Jesus Christ's name in vain and provide Saya with the blood she needs to survive while she uses her skills to rid the world of bloodsuckers (strangely, the word vampire is never uttered in the film). The Council enrolls her in Kanto High School at an American military base to wipe out suspected demons. There, she befriends the base general's daughter, Alice (Allison Miller), and also senses that this may be her one chance to finally kill the number one evil vampire of them all, Onigen (Koyuki) - the one who killed her father.

Chris Chow wrote the screenplay, and manages the not-so-hard task of turning the first 20 minutes into a successful adaptation of the anime, from the opening subway scene to Saya's school assignment. The difficulties and senselessness come when the film completely abandons the school scenario, going in another direction altogether, with Saya fighting no-name demons on the dark, rainy streets of Tokyo, highlighted by neon lights. It looks lush, thanks to the production design (and kudos to cinematographer Hang-Sang Poon). Saya's lengthy flashback explaining her past provides little answers. "I have one purpose, and one purpose only," says Saya. "To kill Onigen." Unbelievably, Onigen, played by Japanese actress Koyuki, is heavily underwritten and criminally underused. It's as if she was an afterthought, given how motiveless this villain is. Film clips and trailers show that some scenes have been deleted to bring it to a lean 90 minutes; enough to suggest that there was a bigger film. We won't know if it's a better one till the sure-to-be extended DVD arrives.

Even for a 400-year old vampire, Korean actress Jeon Ji-hyun (who adopted the name Gianna Jun specifically for the release of this film) still manages to look youthful enough at 27 to pass for a schoolgirl. Known for My Sassy Girl and Il Mare, Blood is essentially her show, bringing vulnerability to the strong silent Saya. She curiously stands out in her own country, notably during her walk into Kanto High School with all eyes on her. "We believe she's not even Japanese, " says a US Army Officer, a cameo by director Chris Nahon, providing an in-joke about Jun.

Allison Miller (last seen in 17 Again) doesn't really get to do much, since her character Alice serves little purpose except to hide, scream and push the plot onwards by asking questions and receiving mixed answers. Although she does briefly help Saya at moments, it would have really bolstered the action if they made Alice more of a kick-ass heroine instead. Also it's never fully explained why these demons want to kill her. They just do.

Director Chris Nahon made his directorial debut with Kiss of the Dragon, which actually delivered some great action and real stunts, with little CGI, though he had some help in the form of Corey Yuen. Yuen had directed The Transporter and stuck around for the sequels as a martial arts choreographer. Although Nahon brings him onboard again, Blood seems to be the first time either of them has had to fully incorporate special effects into the story. Given the source material, this is certainly a film that needs it, but Nahon's over-reliance on it lessens the impact.

The few ideas they do have for outrageous action sequences are unfortunately let down by the bargain bin special effects. One example (which takes the best bits from Underworld: Evolution and Wanted) involves a fight with a demon on top of a truck that has driven off a cliff and become lodged down a narrow crevice. It's one of the more over-the-top sequences in the film, but also highlights the flaws in the effects, and more alarmingly, the continuity (Saya's sword appears and disappears). The CGI chiropteran demons themselves are more laughable than convincing, coming across as demented midgets that look like the kind of thing you'd expect to see in some cheap straight-to-video production or demented children's TV series. Underworld was released six years ago, had a cheaper production budget ($22 million, against Blood's $35 million) and looked better than this.

Also, why the hell must mainstream action films with scenes of martial arts look like they've been filmed by stoned teenagers? The excessive frantic cuts do not look cool, making the fighting all the more awkward and difficult to see, but it's done to hide the fact that actress Gianna Jun isn't a martial artist. The decision to use Jun over a skilled martial artist helps sell the film across Asia, but the trade-off comes in the action sequences, given that Jun has never done an action film before. Although you can believe that she can kill a vampire in real life (having hurt herself training for three months) it's as if the fighting sequences have been downsized, using crazy editing to accommodate Jun. Hence, we see the occasional close-ups of Saya slashing away at a demon off-screen while copious amounts of CGI blood fly onscreen. Although it would have been cheaper to buy the real thing from a blood bank, CGI blood allows for more than is humanly possible to spurt out, and also allows Nahon to film it flowing in over-indulgent slow motion, because he loves it. However altering the speed up and down during the action does not make it any better.

Adapting the anime of Blood: The Last Vampire is a great idea; it's just a shame that the result is badly executed. Director Nahon, and even choreographer Yuen, should know better. Sure, audiences aren't gong to flock to this because of the nonsensical story, but if you're promising them a decent hack and slash film, then for the love of white cotton panties, at least you could film it properly by learning to keep the camera still. Apart from Jun herself, there's little that really stands out. The truth is, you've most likely seen this kind of thing hundreds of times before, and often better. If you've seen the trailer, then you won't find it too hard imaging the remaining 88 minutes yourself.