Blood: The Last Vampire -- Film Review
EmptyBottom Line: The Asian presence outshines its Western components in this multinational action-fantasy.
HONG KONG -- Mirroring its half-blood vampire-slaying heroine, the English-language "Blood: The Last Vampire" is a hybrid child created by the production arms of Hong Kong's Edko and France's Pathe. The mixed-gene pool of talent doesn't quite jell, but a saving grace is Korean sweetheart Jeon Ji-hyun (acquiring the moniker Gianna) in her hyped Hollywood debut. She displays ample aptitude for being an action heroine, doing most of her own tendon-twisting martial arts stunts and looking utterly fetching in a sailor suit that could turn any guy into a uniform-fetishist.
"Blood" will spill across Asia's action-packed market as a swankier-than-average item. A summer release stateside through Samuel Goldwyn confers some mainstream status on it, but it probably is not spectacular enough to cut its teeth on the Hollywood blockbuster circuit. Specialty fans of Japanese manga or games will more readily plug into its CGI-centric world.
With Asian stars Gianna, Koyuki and Yasuaki Kurata raising the bar in skill and glamour, the entire Western cast (including dull second lead Allison Miller) appears to be tagged on to make the production look more "Hollywood."
Chris Nahon's direction lacks freshness, and Chris Chow's screenplay lacks nuance. VFX and overall aesthetic design are cool, but they won't knock anyone's socks off. That leaves Corey Yuen and his seasoned Chinese stunt crew soldiering on with their high-concept action choreography, like a kung-fu master whose moves are slowed by clunky armor.
Adapted from the 2001 anime developed by Mamoru Oshii, "Blood" opens in 1970s Tokyo. Saya (Gianna) has been raised by loyal retainer Kato (Kurata) to kill Onigen (Koyuki, regal in white), the oldest, wickedest of mutating bloodsuckers. This Japanese Buffy is a fast sword-wielder but a slow detective, taking centuries to track Onigen down while ripping through low-rung demons with an entourage of Men-in-Black in tow to clean up after her.
Tipped off by a secret society called the Council that vampires are making mischief at the Yokota U.S. Airbase, she enrolls at the precinct's school and rescues Alice (Miller from "17 Again"), the general's daughter, from demonic bullies and murderous "X-Files"-type agents. That Saya is 400 years old but passes for 16, is invulnerable and craves human blood suspiciously suggests vampire DNA. What sets her apart is the possession of a soul, plus table manners -- she sips blood from nicely refrigerated bottles, while demons are messy diners who maul their prey.
Amid a prosaic plot strewn with intermittent chases, gun fights and physical combats, only two action set pieces are worth writing home about. Editing is a snappy mishmash of jump cuts and slow motion that has comic book or gaming effects. Longer, less fussy takes would have enhanced the continuity and elaborateness of each movement.
The first big fight makes nifty use of tight corners in a street set where Gianna does some knockout stunts that connect fluidly with a thrilling CGI-enabled shot of her charging through a dozen walls.
The second is set in a forest. Corey Yuen is of course aware that Kurosawa, King Hu, Ching Siu-tong et al. have made it the archetypal action location. His choreography is a fun homage that integrates the vertiginous moves of Chinese martial arts with the rigorous symmetry of Japanese "tate" sword-fighting. Kurata, who was a huge crossover action star in Asia during the '70s, fights fabulously, making one wonder why he is not put to better use earlier.
The final confrontation between Saya and Onigen seems more predictable by comparison. It does use elaborate wire work that makes the actresses look as invincible as their immortal roles.
Opened: Hong Kong, June 4
East Wing Holdings Corp. and SAJ present, in association with Beijing Happy Pictures Cultural Communications Co. Ltd.
Cast: Gianna, Allison Miller, Koyuki, Yasuaki Kurata, Liam Cunningham, JJ Field
Director: Chris Nahon
Screenwriter: Chris Chow
Based on Production IG's animation "Blood The Last Vampire"
Producers: Bill Kong, Abel Nahmias
Director of photography: Poon Hang Sang
Production designer: Nathan Amondson
Music: Clint Mansell, Guillaume Roussel
Costume designers: Constanza Balduzzi, Shandy Lui Fung Shan
Editor: Marco Cave
Sales: East Wing Holdings Corp. and SAJ
No rating, 90 minutes