Now Playing: ‘Blood:The Last Vampire’ is anemic

10 Jul

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Blood: The Last Vampire (R) 91 min. Directed by: Chris Nahon. Written by: Chris Chow.based on characters by: Kenji Kamayama & Katsuya Terada. Starring: Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Maisela Lusha, JJ Field, Koyuki, Liam Cunningham. Cinematography: Hang-Sang Poon Original Music by: Clint Mansell

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Looking like the bad dream half-breed of the Martial Arts Matinee and the Saturday Creature Feature, Blood: The Last Vampire comes stumbling into theaters this weekend with little of the style or atmosphere of its animated source material. Based off of a 2001 anime of the same name, Blood tells a story that horror fans could recite in their sleep. There’s a race of terrible creatures who hide themselves among the human population, feeding off of them, and in the midst of this secret tribe is a once-human warrior who rejects her monstrous pedigree. Her name is Saya and along with help from the enigmatic Council, she tracks and kills the vampires (she refers to them as either demons or bloodsuckers) wherever she finds them. Existing forever in a perpetual teenage state, Saya is searching for the head vampiress who turned her and murdered her family 400 years ago.

The culprit is Onigen, a female spirit who looks like a Geisha crossed with a pirahna, and who has most recently taken up resident at an American military base in Japan. When dead and not-so-dead bodies start turning up on base, the Council sends Saya in, undercover as a high school student, to destroy the blood suckers. With a plot like that, one could almost expect a silly gonzo comedy, like the upcoming Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl or a hard-edged super-hero thriller like the Blade films. Instead, what flops out on screen is a choppy, half-baked fantasy with so little sense or imagination that its only source of comfort is that it is at least three times as good as the overblown Transformers 2. And trust me, that is meager consolation indeed.

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The Mamouri Oshii produced 2001 anime feature ‘Blood: The Last Vampire’

I remember a friend and I scouring three Blockbuster’s on a Friday night back in 2001 trying to grab a copy of the original flick for a college movie night. Finally, after traveling through two counties, we found a copy stuffed on a cart of fresh returns. When we got to our destination and the rest of the gang, we popped the hard-won dvd into the player and sat back with excitement. And for 45 minutes, Blood  was a visually vibrant, thematically rich bit of sci-fi horror that reminded me of Tales From the Crypt comics by way of Ghost in the Shell.

And then, without warning, it ended. After 45 minutes.  We were dumbfounded. That was it? All of that effort and anticipation, and it amounted to the length of a tv pilot. And although Last Vampire left a bad taste in my mouth back then, due to it’s abrupt conclusion and slight nature, I can look back on it now and admire it’s vision and unique world where vampires were as likely to be misunderstood victims as horrifying fiends, and all of that with no dialogue on their part. Drawn in sharp, clean lines and brought to life with a near-realistic display of motion, the animation complemented and enhanced the fantastical story. Now, in the live action version, the haunting artwork and stylish fight sequences have been replaced by faux lens flare, golden filters and battles so heavily edited that you could set a metronome and let it count out the scene breaks.

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What happened here exactly? Well, there are clues immediately. For starters, the film’s international pedigree, which includes French director Chris Nahon, Chinese scriptwriter Chris Chow, Korean star Gianna Juun and a largely American/English supporting cast actually clash against one another. I blame Nahon, who wasn’t any more equipped  to direct this sort of thing now than he was when he made 2001’s Kiss of the Dragon. He never seems to know where the camera should go, or at what level the actors should be pitching their performance and he seems utterly, completely lost when it comes to anything involving kinetic motion.

The special effects are wretched, and ruin even the sequences that should be good. One unfortunate monster looks like Gumby’s pimply brother with a big set of lumpy clay wings and his flight patterns have all the grace of a silent era pterosaur.   A thousand different aesthetics go to work, and none can find any purchase on the craggy hills of the movie’s terse and stupid writing. Characters scream when they could talk, villains exclaim deeply portentous things like “Kill Me…and become Me!” and Juun as Saya struggles valiantly with the dual challenge of conquering not only the English language but the awful dialogue her character is forced to choke out.Juun, to her credit,  is the only actor in the entire thing that manages to evoke anything nearing pathos. I’d gladly watch in her three more pictures as long as they have nothing to do with vampires, comic action or Chris Nohan.

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Although it trots out the same basic plot as the animated short film, this Blood has little on its mind besides being a summer popcorn flick. I can respect that. I wanted to enjoy it in that capacity. However, even a film designed around flimsy plot devices and hyperactive action sequences needs to be well-done. This one is not. The American actors, including Allison Miller as the young girl who befriends Saya, seem utterly confused as to their purpose here. The Council, whose exact purpose is never made clear, provide Saya with the blood she needs to survive but later in the picture they seem like villains. What gives? The movie turns again before we ever really find out. There is an early attempt to suggest a cultural and racial tension as Saya finds herself the only Japanese girl in the American classrooms. But because everyone appears equally uncomfortable, nothing of interest comes of it. Finally, we just wait for the big fights and when they arrive they are letdowns of epic magnitude.

 If you were to take a glance at the action scenes in the first and second Blade movies you would notice that there is a distinct sense of geography and fluid motion, even when the participants are augmented by pounds and pounds of CGI.  In Blood, everything moves in odd and unsettling ways, as if we were watching the viewmaster version of the same scene, one frame at a time. It disembowels the tension and flings even the most attentive viewer into visual confusion. The film’s best scene involves a flashback where an elderly guardian defends Shaya from the ninja vampire hordes of Onegin. He fights like a fiend, and when the warriors outnumber him, they string him up from long suspended chains. Even in this helpless state, he continues to struggle and his fighting death throes echo back to the campy chop sockey films of the 70s. It is the only moment where the film is having any kind of fun at all, and its placement late in the game just adds to the confusion.

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Blood: The Last Vampire has a terrifically lousy Rotten Tomatoes score and most of the friends I trust have also despised it. And yet, Roger Ebert gave it 3 stars, suggesting that it does basically what it sets out to do and gives the target audience special effects and goofy combat and therefore it’s successful. I can actually understand where Roger is coming from (it’s this same approach that resulted in his recommendation of the abominable The Medallion back in 03) but he isn’t doing anyone any favors here. I get the feeling he suspects that the typical Friday night action crowd will eat this up, but in reality I imagine they would rather see a truly ridiculous and incomprehensible hunk of crap that looks newer, louder and shinier than they would want to see a mediocre action film with barely passable fx and not a single star whose face has graced Teen People. The real target audience for this film, the countless Japanese anime and manga fans out there who  watched and enjoyed the first one, won’t be interested either. Blood 09 represents almost the complete opposite of the edgy, inventive spirit that most fans associate with foreign genre fare. It’s a dud from the word go, but hey, at least it doesn’t have jive talking robots.

 

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5 Responses to “Now Playing: ‘Blood:The Last Vampire’ is anemic”

  1. The Great Fatsby July 14, 2009 at 7:53 pm #

    Don’t forget the 50+ episodes of the anime series Blood+. That was ok, but this live action flick sounds like a stinky poo-covered shoe kick in the face.

  2. Bill Bartmann September 8, 2009 at 6:18 am #

    This site rocks!

  3. Bill Bartmann_ September 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm #

    Great site…keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks,

  4. Abul-Fadl Nadr al-Atrabulusi September 29, 2009 at 2:16 pm #

    Well, i actually liked the movie. Till the fall of the truck of course lol. But till there, i liked it very much. I steped to watch with low expectations too and with an “open mind”. but still, maybe because i like manly asiatic movies, maybe not, i like the actions scenes. I gave it 4 though i know i am being bias lol. 3 is fair to me.

    but this is me.

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