By Mike Syzmanski
“Blood: The Last Vampire” is a movie that isn’t necessarily only for anime or manga geeks, and it’s certainly not for vampire lovers. Even my pal Roger Ebert, who is as mainstream as you can get as far as a critic, found the film “entertaining.” This movie is a live-action expansion of a popular Japanese anime film that was released in 2000 and was only 48 minutes long. That award-winning offering skimped on some of the characters and some great fighting sequences, and seemed to keep the audience wanting more. Now, there is more.
The leading character, Saya looks like a normal sullen teenage girl, who is born to a human father and a vampire mother, but she’s really 400 years old. She is sent by a shady group called The Council (who appear very much like the “Men in Black” squad) to dispatch demonic shape-shifting vampires that are hiding out at a military base. One particular draw to this latest assignment for Saya, however, is that she is asked to destroy Onigen, the evil patriarch of all vampires – and the creature who killed her father.
Then she heads to the Yokota U. S. Air Force base near Tokyo in her most stereotypical tight-skirted Japanese schoolgirl outfit and tries to blend into the student population – facing the expected giggles and ridicule of being the new weird student. Gianna (known in Asia as Jeon Ji-hyun) plays the lead role of Saya. The Korean-born 27-year-old actress is perfect as a coquettish spy who has some really deep dark secrets inside her. Although she’s performed in genre films before like “Il Mare” and “Uninvited,” this is her first martial arts action role, and she supposedly does many of her own stunts – which are superb. She delivers her lines with a sense of humor and self-parody, which makes her even more likable.
French director Chris Nahon turned “Blood: The Last Vampire” into an action thriller that is exciting from the first scene. The opening scene is rather intense as it stages a fight sequence on a subway train in 1970. It’s not clear who is stalking whom, but an average-looking guy turns into a demon and the normal-looking teen turns into a superhero. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” producer Bill Kong is involved in the movie, and so some of the fantastic fight sequences you remember from that famous flick are incorporated. The entire movie is visually stunning and the action scenes are breathtaking from beginning to end.
I also loved the acting, especially by the female characters. Bad girl Onigen is played with delicious evil and beauty, like the wicked queen in “Snow White,” by a Japanese model-turned-actress named Koyuki. And the only friend that Saya finds at the U. S. base is Alice, played by actress Allison Miller (who must be forgiven for appearing opposite Zac Efron in “17 Again”).
The friendship between Alice and Saya get almost too close for comfort when they fall into a blood-drinking ritual. And it’s Alice who helps Saya find her human side and eventually unlocks the key to conquering her mortal enemy. Then Saya has a Kato, too. Not to be confused as a sidekick, this guy is an icy-eyebrowed mentor to the wise young girl. He is played by veteran Kung-fu action star Yasuaki Kurata, who was known to give Bruce Lee a pair of nunchucks, which made the weapon famous throughout the world.
If you love watching a woman do some kick-assing, you’ll love this movie. Plus, the fight scenes are truly memorable, whether they are staged out in the remote woods against a group of ninjas or in the rainy city streets of Tokyo. Don’t think this is a romantic vampire movie, because it’s appropriately devoid of too much bloodsucking, but there is certainly enough blood.
I really enjoyed this ride. The movie contains great martial arts and great storytelling and it turns the vampire genre on its ear.
Stars: Jeon Ji-hyun (Gianna), Allison Miller, Liam Cunningham, J.J. Field, Koyuki, Yasuaki Kurata
Director: Chris Nahon
Studio/Official Site: http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/bloodthelastvampire/
[Mike Szymanski is a Hollywood-based freelance writer and author who has written for “Entertainment Weekly,” “USA Today,” the “Los Angeles Times,” and many websites.]
Photos courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films.