|Style overshadows substance in director Chris Nahonís anime to live-action adaptation Blood: The Last Vampire. The Kiss of the Dragon director and his crew serve up cool images and energetic wirework, but neglect story, acting and decent special effects. Also, the fight sequences are oddly edited, and the film's Hong Kong cut appears to have been trimmed to garner a more palatable rating. For screen junk, Blood is passable, but this live-action anime adaptation only serves to sully the memory of its well-regarded inspiration.
There's some ancient war going on between evil demons and their adversaries, with the two sides set to duke it out for who knows how long. Cut to 1970s Japan and the demons are silently massing near Yokota Air Base, an American-run military installation, eagerly awaiting the appearance of their master, an ancient demon named Onigen, whose human form is essayed by the elegant Koyuki (The Last Samurai). Also waiting for Onigen are the demons' sworn enemies, a black suit-wearing group imaginatively called the Council, who have employed half-breed slayer Saya (Gianna Jun a.k.a. Jeon Ji-Hyun of My Sassy Girl) as their chief dispatcher of all things demonic.
In order to place her closer to Onigen's minions, the Council enrolls Saya in Yokota's high school, where she makes an impression on the transplanted Americans with her adorable sailor suit outfit and stoic, take-no-nonsense attitude. She also strikes up a connection with rebellious teen Alice McKee (Allison Miller), who gets in trouble with local demons and needs Saya to bail her out. Alice becomes Saya's inadvertent companion, and after more demonic encounters, the two hit the road to meet Onigen for a final confrontation. There, the two learn a completely generic plot twist, plus engage in a big CGI fight that taxes both the stunt and VFX budgets to their likely meager limits.
The original 50-minute anime Blood: The Last Vampire achieved buzz thanks to producer Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), its stellar animation and the obviously crowd-pleasing image of a female slayer in a schoolgirl outfit. However, stripped of its status as an anime, Blood delivered little that was truly new or original, so one has to wonder what a live-action Blood can really offer an audience. The answer, sadly, is not much at all. Blood possesses basically the same pseudo-mythic backstory you'll find in your usual horror-fantasy fiction, only pared down to a vague and undeveloped framework designed to surround obligatory chases and action sequences.
Also, the narrative and characters are generic, if not laughable. The character of Alice McKee is presumably meant to be an audience touchstone, in that her initiation into Saya's world gives the filmmakers an excuse for some exposition. Sadly, Alice is so annoying that it's easy to imagine the audience rooting for Saya to fail in protecting her. Allison Miller's superfluous dialogue and one-note acting don't help either. Actually, the entire cast save Jeon Ji-Hyun could use a little help, with a bewildering cameo by the director himself - as an out-of-place Frenchman working with the Americans in Japan - serving as the cherry on top of this shoddily-directed film. There's little craft in the film's pacing or storytelling; logic and development are thrown aside for standard set pieces and plot twists, and the dialogue and emotions are too convenient and trite to matter.
The special effects are also amateurish. Handled by HK effects house Menfond Digital, who also worked on A Chinese Tall Story and Eye 2, the CGI sometimes looks like stop-motion animation, and are jarring when placed against realistic backgrounds. Corey Yuen's action is better; the wirework is incredibly obvious but still engaging, and Jeon Ji-Hyun gratefully does many of her own wire-assisted jumps and kicks. However, the action is sometimes edited poorly, with character action and movement not always consistent from shot-to-shot. Varying camera speeds and shaky-cam only add to the effect. The result can be kinetic and even exciting, but convincing? Not really.
There are some small bright spots. Nahon succeeds in making Saya a compelling figure, and the production design is enjoyably kitschy in how it approximates Asian settings and locations. Also, longtime Asian action actor Yasuaki Kurata appears as Saya's childhood protector, and does far more in his limited role than nearly the rest of the cast combined. Still, the best part of the movie is Jeon Ji-Hyun. As Saya, Jeon cuts a physically convincing figure, plus she looks great in the character's trademark sailor suit outfit. Her Japanese isn't so hot, but her accented English is entirely appropriate, and she delivers her lines with an attitude and conviction that the script does not deserve. Casting Jeon was an inspired decision by The Powers That Be. If only that inspiration had informed the rest of the production. (Kozo 2009)