by Mel Valentin
In a summer packed with sequels, reboots, and prequels, "Blood: The Last Vampire," the live-action adaptation of the cult anime (and subsequent manga) released nine years ago, slips into North American theaters unnoticed by everyone except the most diehard fans of the original film and the subsequent anime series. From its mix of Asia, European, and American actors to its derivative storyline, "Blood: The Last Vampire" shows every sign of a production fatally compromised to satisfy its Asian and French producers concerned with their share of the box office take. A dull, unengaging retread that borrows liberally from "Blade" and "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer," "Blood: The Last Vampire" will slip out of movie theaters just as quickly as it slipped in, with moviegoers none the worse for having missed it.The live-action remake of Blood: The Last Vampire opens in Tokyo, Japan, circa 1970 (the anime film was set in 1966). Saya (Gianna Jun), a 400 year-old, half-human, half-vampire who can walk in sunlight and hunts shape-shifting vampire-demons with a katana, tracks a seemingly innocuous salary man to a subway train. He’s anything but a salary man, however. After Saya makes quick work out of the vampire-demon, her handlers, Frank (Andrew Pleavin) and Michael (Liam Cunningham), members of a shadowy, centuries-old organization called the Council, arrive to clean up the remains. Saya has little chance to rest before Frank and Michael show up with her latest assignment: infiltrating a U.S. Army base where three people have been killed, apparently by vampire demons. To blend into the all-American base, Frank and Michael convince Saya to attend the English-language high school located on the base.
"Or just go ahead and rent Blade I and II instead..."
Between her status as the only Japanese student in an all-American high school and the anachronistic sailor uniform she wears on her first day, Saya sticks out like a sore thumb. While almost everyone ignores Saya, Alice Mckee (Allison Miller), the daughter of the American general (Larry Lamb) who runs the base, takes an interest in her. No one at the army base, not even the military, seems alarmed that there’s a murderer or murderers on the loose. When two of Alice’s classmates, Sharon (Masiela Lusha) and Linda (Ailish OConnor), get violent in an after-school kendo sparring session, Saya intervenes, saving Alice’s life. Once Saya saves Alice, her cover’s blown and the need (if there ever was one) to walk around in the schoolgirl uniform disappears. Saya, of course, remains in the sailor uniform through the end credits. Alice and Saya repeatedly cross paths until they eventually team up.
Director Chris Nahon (best known for helming Jet Li-in-Paris actioner [Kiss of the Dragon), and screenwriter Chris Chow create a backstory for Saya and the other characters that borrows from the original anime series and from the anime series (which is set in a alternate universe). Saya has spent four centuries attempting to find and kill Onigen without success. She works with the Council (Red Shield in the original anime) out of necessity: they provide her with cover stories, food (blood), clothing, and an apartment, while she hunts and kills the shape-shifting vampire-demons (“chiropterans” in the original anime film, unnamed here) , primarily in Japan. Nahon and Chow never bother to explain why Caucasians run the Council and why they operate openly in a country as homogenous as Tokyo (the Elder takes a meeting in a public restaurant within earshot of several patrons), but that’s just one out of many questions Nahon and Chow leave unanswered. Of course, Nahon and Chow aren’t interested in narrative logic. They’re just hoping that audiences either won’t notice or won’t care. Sadly, they might be right.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a more generic villain than Onigen. She appears in three or four scenes, doing little except causing an innkeeper’s head to explode on a whim, talking to one of her minions once or twice, then appearing at the climax to battle Saya. Then again, it’s hard to imagine a more superfluous character than Alice. Her presence in Blood: The Last Vampire doesn’t serve a specific or even a general narrative need, but rather an extra-narrative one (i.e., to balance the Asian leads with American or English-speaking actors). There’s even less reason for Saya’s English-speaking handlers. They’re operating in Japan, not in Europe or North America, but again, narrative logic or need weren’t particularly important to Nahon or Chow.With Nahon directing, mediocrity at least seemed like an obtainable goal. Unfortunately, expecting mediocrity was expecting too much. Between the minimal nighttime lighting and Nahon’s super-quick editing style, the action scenes are difficult, if not impossible, to follow. One flashback scene does, however, includes a well-choreographed sword fight between Saya’s mentor, Kato Takatora (Yasuaki Kurata), and more than a dozen ninjas, but it’s only one five-minute scene in an eighty-minute film (minus credits). The brief, underwhelming climactic duel between Saya and Onigen is either an indication of Nahon’s shortcomings as a director, a limited budget, or both. All the stylized bloody violence Nahon and his effects crew can't hide "Blood: The Last Vampire’s" inability to provide entertainment value worthy of a theatrical experience (or even a DVD rental in several months time).
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=18870&reviewer=402
originally posted: 07/10/09 18:14:33