Thursday, May 21, 2009

Blood: The Last Vampire

Blade In Schoolgirl Uniform

Jeon Ji-Hyun, now known as Gianna for this international film, trades her demure demeanour for something that action junkies will probably find reason to cheer about - having a beautiful heroine kick some serious butt with her near-invincibility and possessing a blade that cuts through vampires, monsters and demons like hot knife through butter. But seriously, do we need another half-vampire, half-human hybrid being for the big screen, even though this has anime roots?

If done well, I don't see why not of course, with enough room for yet another vampire hunter, since the closest if anyone wants to compare modus operandi with, will be Wesley Snipes as Marvel's Blade. I am trying really hard to find redeeming factors for this film, but alas the negatives seem to outweigh the positives a lot more, and draw tremendous attention that you'll find hard to ignore.

First of all, there's the issue of Saya (Gianna), being the all powerful hunter that she is, actually succumbed to an old pitfall - never have your hero sit on the pedestal that it becomes absolutely effortless when facing adversary. One slash of her katana means instant death, and thus there's no kick, and no challenge. She rarely broke a sweat (OK, so the heavy downpour might disguise that a little) when dispatching scores, and I mean scores, of faceless, nameless beings, that by the time the next action sequence rolls around, you know what to expect - hack, slash, hack, slash, wash-rinse-repeat.

No doubt Gianna's no true-blue martial arts practitioner, director Chris Nahon decided to spice things up a bit through extremely fast cuts, close ups, and a dash of time-lapse or slow motion here and there. Stylistically it may look gorgeous, but you become well aware that these were employed to mask short-comings in the action sequences, directed by Corey Yuen. No offense to Corey, but I felt that Blood was in need of some genuine edge-of-your-seat excitement in its battles, because Saya does look like a one-trick pony, until the last set action piece provided a little glimpse into more powers that she possesses. Everything in-between was nothing new, nor accentuates her abilities for an audience unfamiliar with the source material.

Then there's the outcome of over-reliance on badly delivered CGI. No doubt wanting to stylize blood spurts probably to lessen the impact of very graphic violence and dismemberment, again something overly done becomes the spoiler for the broth. The rooftop chase was cartoony, though I'm quite sure the intent wasn't to infuse some animation at certain points in the film. What I thoroughly enjoyed though, even if it was rather old school and done countless of times, is the ninja attack set in a leafy forest. Execution was swift, with a real sense of peril, up until the point Saya enters the picture, without which it was a treat to see her guardian and trainer Kato (Yasuaki Kurata) take on a hooded army relying heavily on cunning and trickery.

But the biggest culprit to bog down the film from reaching its expected potential, is the severe lack of credible villains. Everyone else besides chief demon Onigen (played by Japanese actress Koyuki) was like a side dish appetizer meant to pass time until Saya meets Onigen in the showdown you see in the trailer. No offense to Koyuki, but her English diction here really made one strain the ears to try and make out the threats she's dishing out (I had Chinese subtitles available to assist thankfully), and despite her awesome powers, she failed to heed the prime lesson that most cinematic villains have fallen for - that an egoistical soliloquy is always a waste of time. Not to mention that the final third of the film seemed like it was a rushed job to get to where it wanted to be, and out of convenience too.

There were some nice moments such as the whole set up of the ultra-secretive Council (like a Men in Black predecessor) and the clean-up jobs that the lower rung operatives have to conduct each time Saya cleans out the demons, and it was a pity that the entire council got forgotten midway. Clint Mansell provided the score, but unfortunately there wasn't a memorable tune that came out of it. And to round up the disappointments in this very choppy film, what was unforgivable the sense of deja-vu in having a scene lifted from Underworld: Evolution. Think flight from danger with a winged beast attacking the getaway truck, and you get my point, attack for attack - swooping from heights, slamming of the windscreen, driving on a mountainous winding road and the ripping of doors, with such similarities just too close for comfort.

Bottom line is, Blood: The Last Vampire is a straight forward action film. Forget the wafer thin plot and try to ignore the potential where certain scenes could have been made better. It's nice to look at with plenty of style over substance, and unfortunately nothing more.

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