“Blood: The Last Vampire” is an object lesson in how to take a promising notion and royally squander it.
Based on the 2000 anime of the same title, this live-action adaptation of the story by Luc Besson protege Chris Nahon is about as flawed an attempt at making an action-adventure horror tale as I’ve seen in my many years actively seeking out new and exciting forms of geekery.
I mean, it takes talent to muck up this premise – last remaining pure-blood vampire hunts down her mutated cousins to get closer to the uber-demon Onigen and slay it once and for all – and render it as boringly and indifferently as Nahon manages to do here.
The Korean actress Gianna Jun plays Saya, the titular Vampire hunter and in all honesty, she gives the best performance in the film. Her original work was by all accounts dubbed before release and it’s not really that obvious, which suggests that either Jun did a reasonably good job in the first place or that whomever did the ADR for this film is some kind of voice-over ninja.
She’s not really helped in her efforts by a cast which includes J.J. Feild, Liam Cunningham and the usually very reliable Colin Salmon. As they’re playing archetypes rather than genuinely fleshed-out characters, it’s highly probable that they didn’t have much of any note to work with – they may as well have had ‘turncoat villain’, ‘gruff mentor’ and ‘doomed authority figure’ tattooed on their foreheads to save the audience time.
I can’t say that any of the main cast are really bad – although the second female lead Allison Miller squeals and screams herself hoarse as quite the most annoying audience identification figure that I’ve seen in a film for a while – but the film that they’ve found themselves is a trying exercise in visual style which can’t even function on that most basic of levels.
The special effects, in particular, are shockingly variable – some fantastic practical make-up work is summarily undercut by some of the most jaw-detachingly inept CG work ever committed to film. Ed Wood, had he lived long enough to see the advent of digital effects, would probably have thought twice before letting some of the demonic creatures like the ones in this film see the light of film in anything which he made.
For one thing, Chris Nahon seems to have forgotten how to stage action in the years between his previous Asian action flick, “Kiss of the Dragon”. The story calls for its vampire heroine to dust all kinds of night walkers into fine paste during the course of her quest and you would think that this would be a relatively easy task to accomplish in the post “Hero”/“House of Flying Daggers” era. Get some talented action choreographers from the Eastern cinema stable and a gifted stunt team and have some stage some thrilling, wire-assisted mayhem – it’s not too tough, surely?
Apparently, it is. The action in the film is choppy, hard to follow and devoid of fun – I don’t know whether budget played a factor in what the film makers could pull off (it certainly looks like it cost a pretty penny, so I don’t buy that argument) or whether the actors were not available to train in advance of filming but the result on-screen is one which doesn’t compare to the likes of the Yimou Zhang pictures noted above. There’s no flow to the action – it’s cut like a Michael Bay film, for pity’s sake – and has none of the balletic grace of the Wu-Xia films we’ve seen in recent years.
The horror aspect, too, is fumbled. The vampire mythology extends mostly to Saya having lived for a long time and having a bad case of the red contact lenses when she gets a spot of blood lust going, with the film’s take on the undead electing to eschew the vampire staples like slain night crawlers disintegrating or being vaporised by sunlight in favour of a take on vampirism which positions it as a demonic viral infection.
It simultaneously strives for realism whilst also employing a mythical rationale for events which is symptomatic of this film’s confused state – the story is set in Japan in the 1960’s but feels as though it could be a contemporary American high school where everybody’s seriously into their LARP-ing and cosplaying, as the set decor, costumes and attitudes of the younger actors portraying the military brats attending the local US army base school seem so anachronistic that it can’t help but jar you out of the film.
I could go on but all that you really need to know is that this isn’t a rental choice for anyone but hardcore vampire fans, Gianna Jun’s followers or bloggers who want off-the-beaten track genre flicks to watch for their ongoing series of posts. Everyone else can stay away and be content in the knowledge that they’re really not missing anything much.