All Blood and No Bite

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Blood: The Last Vampire

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Is it just me or has the recent trend for all things vampire left you feeling like the genre has – and pardon the bad pun – lost its bite?  Whether on TV in True Blood or on the big screen in the Twilight and Underworld series, we’ve been so saturated by our blood-sucking brethren that it’s going to take something really special to see them as, well, special again.  Unfortunately, Blood: The Last Vampire is not that thing.

It’s not just that the film is bad or uninspired, it’s that it has such a contempt for the audience that it’s almost impossible to even enjoy it as a pure guilty pleasure which is the least I expect from a movie like this.

Blood: The Last Vampire was originally a 48-minute anime film hit that launched a series of books, mangas and a TV series in its native Japan. It was a simple story about Saya, a young girl who is half-human/half-vampire, fighting and killing vampire demons on a U.S. army base in Japan during the Vietnam War era.  The film basically delivered what that plot promised—no more and no less—and was an enjoyable diversion.

The film is a 90 minute mess that feels like it was made by people who are either just collecting a paycheck or have never seen a vampire movie before and think what they are putting on screen is original and interesting.

In this version, the 16-year-old Saya is played by the popular Korean actress Jun Ji-Hyun, going by the new moniker of Gianna, who is definitely not sixteen though she still looks nice in the schoolgirl outfit she wears for most of the film for reasons that make no sense.  Korean film fans will recognize Gianna from works like My Sassy Girl and Il Mare where her particular brand of tough but vulnerable charisma was put to much better use. Those films made me, like much of Asia, fall in love with her. But Blood… may leave audiences wondering what the big deal is.

Gianna has been reportedly studying English in the U.S. in an effort to break into the American film industry and this role may have sounded good on paper—a kick-ass heroine who rarely talks therefore alleviating the English barrier issue—but the essence of this character is the opposite of what makes her such a charming performer.  What makes Gianna perfect in films like My Sassy Girl is her ability to engage the other characters around her directly and force them to react to her.  But with Saya, she’s playing someone who is isolated and unable to fully connect with the outside world.  It’s like asking the prom queen to play the solitary outcast.

Not that the other actors come off better.  Allison Miller, who plays the human teen Saya comes to protect, has a genuine likeability but is not given much to do but whine and Koyuki, who brought a quietly commanding presence to her role opposite Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, plays Saya’s nemesis with such a heavy hand that all she’s missing is a mustache to twirl.

But when you have so many talented actors who come off this badly, the blame must be laid at the feet of the script and the director.   When I said earlier that the film has a contempt for the audience, what I mean is that director Chris Nahon and writer Chris Chow have created a work that’s so tired and full of clichés that it’s hard to find any sense of joy that could at least elevate the work to the level of great trash.  Even the usually solid action choreography of the film’s action director, Cory Yuen (Red Cliff), has a “been there/done that” quality.

Despite the film’s many flaws, I do hope that Gianna gets another shot to show what she can do in an American production.  She’s got genuine star quality and just needs the type of break that her fellow Asian thesps like Ken Watanabe or Rinko Kikuchi were lucky to get.  Hopefully, she can wash the bad taste of this Blood away so Western audiences can discover what their Asian counterparts already know.

Philip W. Chung is a writer and Co-Artistic Director of Lodestone Theater Ensemble, which is currently celebrating its tenth and final season. The company’s next performance of the musical revue Closer Than Ever runs August 8-30 in Los Angeles. For more info go to: www.lodestonetheatre.org or www.facebook.com/lodestonetheatre

Blood: The Last Vampire opens in select cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Seattle and Honolulu on July 10.

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