Review: Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

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It’s 1970 and centuries old half demon Saya (Gianna/Jun, My Sassy Girl) is on a revenge mission. Orphaned almost at birth, she was raised by Kato (Kurata Yasuaki), the mentor who taught her all about sword fighting and, apparently, demons. Saya’s looking for Onigen (television stalwart Koyuki), the oldest demon and the source of her misery. With her handler Michael (Irish veteran Cunningham) and his assistant Luke she infiltrates an American army base in Japan to eliminate some “bloodsuckers” (demons, not vampires) and falls in with Alice (relative newcomer Miller) who gets mixed up with the whole demon thing… somehow. For a few minutes Blood: The Last Vampire teeters on the verge of becoming a lesbian Twilight, which would have been an improvement. On both films.

So. How did Japanese civilians and American soldiers relate to each other in the post-Kennedy, pre-second wave ‘70s? Where do these demons come from and what is their agenda? How does Saya identify and does she have difficulty reconciling her demon and human halves? How does Saya maintain those meticulously placed strands of hair? These questions are jettisoned in favour of repetitive swordplay and some weak female bonding: though Saya and Alice are outsiders — she’s the General’s daughter — writer Chris Chow doesn’t (or can’t) make room in the story for emotional relationships. Based almost shot-for-shot (initially) on Production IG’s original mini-feature, Blood quickly devolves into an amalgam of ungrounded demon/horror/sci-fi convention. Modern wuxia-inspired forest fights replete with fluttering leaves? Shocking family/destiny revelations? Dude in a KY Jelly-slathered rubber suit? Check, check and check. Despite some evocative cinematography by Poon Hang-sang (Kung Fu Hustle), Blood can neither sustain a cinematic expansion of the material for fans nor create a vision that doesn’t reek of Blade-with-a-chick for the uninitiated.

Sadly, Gianna (really, wtf?), best known as a fluffy romantic lead (slightly progressive by Korean standards though hardly threatening to the macho status quo), is tasked with a role she is ill suited for. Gianna lacks the hardened femininity of Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Garner and Lucy Lawless; regardless of your feelings on those three actresses’ genre work, they look like they could kick ass. Corey Yuen choreographs the fights with his signature flair, though poor Ms Jun (a far more familiar name for Asia-Pacific) looks wearier than she should, in turn making viewers wonder when this nonsense is going to stop.

That the film is in English and the lead and her antagonist are working in a foreign tongue strains credibility by drawing attention to stilted dialogue and uncomfortable performances. That does, however, supply the film with its few moments of misbegotten brilliance when Koyuki spouts a few unintelligible howlers that may or may not be important. It’s Sukiyaki Western Django redux — but without Miike’s command of nuanced filmmaking. Director Chris Nahon duplicates the formula that worked so well for Kiss of the Dragon, that being the one where the action never stops in the service of something as petty as plot or theme.

5.5 garbled vowels out of 10.
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