Based on the 2000 Japanese anime of the same name, Chris Nahon’s “Blood: The Last Vampire” marks the English-language debut of actress Jeon Ji-hyun, who first rose to International fame in the 2001 South Korean romantic comedy “My Sassy Girl”. Here, Jeon has chosen to use the more International-friendly Gianna Jun in the credits, though I suspect this will be irrelevant to most of the film’s audience. The movie saw limited release in the States, but should have a more robust box office take (or at least DVD sales) in Asian countries based on Jun’s celebrity status. Fans of wild action movies should also take a look at “Blood”, as although it is lacking in most areas, martial arts action is something it has in abundance.
“Blood” has Gianna Jun playing Saya, a half-human, half-vampire half-breed that stalks the dark alleyways and subway cars of Japan looking for demons to slay. Luckily for her, demons seem to be plentiful in this universe. For you see, there has been an ongoing war between the humans and the demons (they are never explicably referred to as vampires, and “blood suckers” is as far as the movie will go to acknowledging their vampire traits), starting when Onigen (Koyuki, last seen romancing Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai”) slaughtered her way through Feudal Japan many moons ago. Flash-forward to 1970 Japan, where Saya works with a covert cabal known only as The Council to track down, kill, and then erase the existence of the blood suckers.
Saya’s latest job has her infiltrating a school at an American military base, where several deaths have been reported. Quickly, Saya runs afoul of two demons, including the bullying Sharon (Masiela Lusha), but she also meets and befriends rebellious teen Alice McKee (Allison Miller), whose father runs the base. After dispatching of the demons, Saya leaves, but not before intriguing Alice enough that the girl begins her own investigation, which eventually leads her into the heart of the human-demon. And just when Saya’s quest for vengeance against Onigen seems stalled, the mother of all demons herself returns to Japan for one final battle.
Despite clocking in at a breezy 90 minutes or so, “Blood: The Last Vampire” still feels like a 60 minute movie stretched out with 30 minutes of extraneous plotlines. There’s really no reason to make Alice the daughter of the base’s commander, except to give her father something to do. The dad’s investigation into the Council adds an additional 10 minutes or so to the film, time that could have been better spent exploring more of Saya’s past and her centuries-long grudge against Onigen. Instead, the script by Chris Chow tries to involve us in some hackneyed investigation by the elder McKee as he tries to uncover the secrets behind The Council. I don’t know why they bothered. Apparently it’s just one old guy eating soup in a noodle shop. And oh yeah, four guys with silver briefcases armed with liquid solutions that, apparently, can clean up even the worst demons stains. More interesting is the relationship between a Council agent named Michael (Liam Cunningham) and Saya, but it’s never really explored, with most of the attention going to the ridiculously over-the-top Luke (JJ Feild).
The original anime fielded a serviceable plot that involved Saya infiltrating and then working her way through the demons in the military base, which would have been more than enough to write a live-action movie around. Instead, the script abandons the base so fast that you get the feeling the only reason they even introduced it was to justify Gianna Jun wearing a Japanese schoolgirl uniform. Curiously, even though the school only fills up about 10 minutes of the entire movie, Saya continues to run around slaying demons in that same schoolgirl uniform. Mind you, not that I’m complaining, I’m just saying, is there a reason she’s still wearing it despite no longer needing a schoolgirl cover? Maybe she misses her school days back in, er, Feudal Japan? They wore sailor schoolgirl outfits back then, right?
But never you mind all the above. This is a movie based on a Japanese animated film about a centuries-old vampire in a schoolgirl uniform going around chopping vampires into little pieces with a big ol sword, after all, so one can forgive the live-action version for its meandering and less than spectacular plotting. What the film really gets right is its action, with the highlight being a spectacular, lengthy duel between Saya and a legion of demons in the rain that moves from one series of alleyway to another. Director Chris Nahon knows action, having cut his teeth on the Jet Li actioner “Kiss of the Dragon” and the crime film “Empire of the Wolves”. “Blood” features some surprisingly brutal sword combat, as Saya is quite the proficient killer, hacking and slashing her way through the sea of vampires that stands between her and her immortal foe, Onigen. But have no fear, it’s all done in a very cartoonish style (not to mention filled with ridiculous CGI blood), so you’re liable to chuckle at the excesses of these scenes rather than flinch at their brutality.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the film’s less than stellar CGI work. It wouldn’t be so bad if the CGI was convincing, which they aren’t in the slightest. Really, however much the producers paid to make these creatures move onscreen, they paid too much. Almost nothing about the film’s creature effects are convincing, and it’s even worse when the demons transform into winged flyers and flap around in the air. It kept reminding me that my PS3 games had cutscenes that were more life-like than these gargoyle creatures. Fortunately, Gianna Jun is there to salvage things, even in scenes heavy with these CGI monstrosities. She really is the best thing about the movie, and Nahon should thank his lucky stars that Jun is completely committed to the role and the film’s numerous complex action set pieces. I was unsure how she would fare as an action heroine, but I have to admit, Gianna Jun looks so comfortable in the role that it feels like she’s been doing this type of stunt-heavy work since she got started in the business, which as those familiar with her past works will know, is not the case.
Fans of the original anime by Hiroyuki Kitakubo will probably find Chris Nahon’s live-action adaptation to be on the underwhelming side. The film stays faithful to the anime in the early parts, but the script quickly diverts once Saya is in the American military base. That location is quickly ditched in favor of a road trip of sorts where Saya and Alice flee the authorities and the demons, only to run headlong into – well, let’s just say that the film’s final act is such a mess when it comes to coherent narrative plotting that you’re liable to think “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li” actually made sense by comparison. There’s also the matter of shoehorning the Alice character into the movie. It doesn’t work, Allison Miller never looks or feels as if she belongs in the film, and everytime Saya hops to the rescue of the American girl, you wonder why she bothers. Is Saya – or, indeed, the audience – really that invested in keeping the hapless teen alive? I don’t think so.
There are two types of people that should grab a copy of “Blood: The Last Vampire” when it hits DVD. Fans of Gianna Jun, who wants to see their favorite starlet take on her first English-language picture, and lovers of crazy, insane limb-slicing action films. “Blood” certainly has you covered on both fronts, with its heavy doses of sword action and Gianna Jun in the middle of it all. There’s also a pretty brutal and incredibly cool sword fight in a flashback sequence that fans of Japanese Chanbara movies should love. I don’t really recommend “Blood” for everyone, but if you happen to fall in those two aforementioned categories, then Chris Nahon’s “Blood: The Last Vampire”, while not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, nevertheless delivers the goods where it counts.
Chris Nahon (director) / Kenji Kamiyama, Katsuya Terada (character), Chris Chow (screenplay)
CAST: Gianna Jun … Saya
Allison Miller … Alice Mckee
Masiela Lusha … Sharon
Koyuki … Onigen
Liam Cunningham … Michael
Colin Salmon … Powell
JJ Feild … Luke