There's been much made in the horror blogosphere of late regarding The Vampire Diaries, and by all accounts it seems that you're most likely to get some enjoyment out of it if you shut off your brain and try not to take it all too seriously. That said, I had a similar reaction to checking out the French-Japanese co-production Blood: The Last Vampire, although I suspect it is probably a lot more fun than Diaries.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I walked into the NYC sneak preview of this flick, and I'm glad I had no pre-conceived notions, because I think if I had gone in expecting a straight-up horror flick, I might've been less than pleased. The best way to describe this film would be to call it a horror-flavored Hong Kong-style action flick--and one which never, ever makes the mistake of playing it too straight.
Directed by French music video and commercial auteur Chris Nahon, the movie is a live-action adaptation of a popular 2000 short Japanese anime film. And I've got to hand it to Nahon and his crew, because they managed to create exactly that--a living, breathing, live-action anime. If that sounds like something that would interest you, than you are going enjoy the piss out of Blood: The Last Vampire.
The intense and beautiful Gianna Jun plays Saya, a vampire hunter who is herself a reluctant bloodsucker (in actuality, the creatures are referred to mainly as "demons" in the film). Saya is employed by a mysterious secret society out to rid the world of the evil vampire overlord Onigen and her vicious minions. Along the way, she crosses paths with token American Sharon (played by the less-than-stellar Masiela Lusha), the daughter of the general in charge of the army base where she is secretly stationed.
Liam Cunningham and J.J. Feild play Saya's caretakers, two mysterious agents who literally look and speak like they just walked out of an episode of Speed Racer. It's pretty stiff and awful, unless you kick back and soak it in as part of the whole "live action anime" thing. Once I "got" it, I was able to have fun with it. The same can be said for much of the movie itself.
The highlight of the flick is easily the action, some of the best-filmed and choreographed you're likely to see anywhere. The melding of the horror and samurai genres yields some enjoyable fruit here; think of it as Buffy meets Kills Bill. That said, I could've done without the plentiful CGI blood, which ruins any good horror movie for me, but here was particularly egregious. In fact, the CG in general is notably bad, with creature rendering that isn't even at contemporary video game levels.
The shining moment in the film is easily the final confrontation between Saya and Onigen, played by the stunning model-turned-actress Koyuki. The CG here finally rises to impressive levels, and an epic feel is communicated unlike anything else in the film. You really do feel like you're watching anime come to life. It's also filmed beautifully by cinematographer Hang-Sang Poon, a veteran of Jackie Chan and Jet Li vehicles.
Adding to the comic-book, pulpy look and feel of Poon's camera work is the impressive production design work of Chia-Yi Rene Chao. Clearly, they were going for a Sin City/300/Watchmen kind of vibe, and although it falls far short of that, the result is a slick, kinetic production, a richly rendered world that is as much fun to look at as the action that's taking place in it.
I encourage you to have fun with Blood: The Last Vampire. Look past the often-cheesy dialogue and wooden acting--or better yet, appreciate them for what they are. This is Japanese/Hong Kong-style mindless (yet mindblowing) action at its best, with a healthy dose of horror thrills tossed in for good measure. It's actually a pretty unique film, unlike anything you're likely to see this year. Definitely worth a look, just don't expect anything more than a rollicking good time.
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