Blood: The Last Vampire (US - BD RA)
Gabe removes his own hand to see if he too bleeds bloopy, lumpy black stuff...
Why would I have any interest in the live action remake of an animated movie series I didn’t really like in the first place? Because I have a stupid need to see as many live action animation adaptations as I can, specifically lowish-budget ones. So far they’re all pretty bad. Blood: The Last Vampire doesn’t buck the trend. There’s a story here, but it couldn’t have been written down ahead of time, otherwise the dialogue would be made up of words, rather than broad generalizations of character feelings, and the characters themselves wouldn’t narrate the back story like walking exposition machines. The ‘plot’ goes something like this: a vampire half-breed named Saya hunts demons for a secret organization on a US Army base in Japan just before the Vietnam War breaks out. I’m assuming everything beyond this was improvised. Or perhaps hiring a French director to helm a Chinese/French/Japanese co-production, staring Koreans, Americans, and an Irishman, is a generally bad idea. The on-set language barriers must have been murder, and it’s likely the script was written in Chinese, then badly translated into a dozen other languages. The already wafer-thin, 48 minute source material doesn’t help fill the gaps. A lack of plot or character intrigue shouldn’t really be enough to kill a film of this type, but when coupled with weak direction, the outcome is all but sealed in the first half hour, which is creatively stilted to say the least.
Apparently Bride with White Hair director Ronny Yu was originally attached to the film. Despite one’s opinion of Yu’s more recent output, the guy has an eye for colour and action, and he’s brought visual class to many less than reputable projects over the years. Fearless may have been a bit of a disappointment, but Yu mostly overcame a rocky script and a devastating structural flaw to make an entertaining film at the very least. The director’s treatment of Freddy vs. Jason points more to what he likely could’ve accomplished with Blood – comic book colours, lavish violence, and action with a solid sense of geography and weight. French director Chris Nahon, who directed the reasonably satisfying English language Jet Li vehicle Kiss of the Dragon, does not appear to have any control over Blood, save his gorgeously gaudy pallet. The film’s standout actors are clearly working from experience, not a director’s hand, the structure is muddy at best, and the pacing is slow despite large sections of the film clearly missing (there are no deleted scenes on the disc, but at least one glimpse in the making-of material).
There’s a possibly intended dream logic to the entire production that begins with the generally detached performances, and continues through stage-like physical sets, stuttering plot thrust, and the apparent knowing disregaurd for setting up mythology. One assumes some of the demon/vampire creature back-story would be refilled by future installments had the film been a big hit, though the ‘story’ appears to bring Saya full circle. Further exploration of the stuff around her would indubitably detour into territory fully covered by the Blade series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a vast ocean of similar Anime (most of it likely inspired by the extremely popular Vampire Hunter D films), but it would’ve given the film a nice anchor. Blood’s disregard for logic reminds me of the first act of Alex Proyas’s Dark City, where the fractured narrative is spit hastily at the viewer to create utter confusion. The problem is that the entire film works like this, and unlike Dark City there are no explanations beyond to broadest bits and pieces. Eventually it’s strictly stated that the lead demon can bend perception, but unless she’s had control over the entirety of the events the simplest explanations all hark back to a lack of imagination, or plain old laziness. If the dream logic was intended I actually applaud the filmmakers, and take back some of my criticisms.
The closest Blood comes to goodness are the long-winded fight scenes. The talents of action choreographer Cory Yuen are large enough to shimmer through even the worst camera placement, over-editing, and special effects, but Nahon and his other collaborators still put in the old college try. There is one clearly stated multi-character sword fight towards the middle/end of the film, which uses slow motion to enhance the more violent moments, places the camera in logical positions, doesn’t cut the performers’ movements to ribbons, and is shot in enough light to ensure clarity. The other battles (especially the multi-demon centerpiece set on the ropey city set) are messy, and frankly stated, ugly. Rapid fire cutting and barely motivated speed-ramping are utilized in an effort to create urgency, but the well planned, well practiced, well executed choreography is lost. The camera refuses to sit still, the stylized lighting blinds us, and the geography is needlessly jumbled. Stacked on this are some mind-blowingly shoddy digital effects. I suspect that the blobby CG blood was partially an aesthetic decision based on the differences between demon blood and human blood, but the best intensions don’t make the slop any more visually appealing. The look is so unnatural it doesn’t elicit any visceral reaction, unlike, say, the fountains of watery red stuff found in the Lone Wolf and Cub films. Even in an entirely computer animated film this blood would look wrong. The creature effects don’t fair much better. I like movie creatures so much I’m often willing to overlook iffy effects, but besides being generally dull designs, the demons have zero heft, physical presence or threat, and they move like stop-motion creations with economical frame rates.
Blood: The Last Vampire is a distinctly weak film, but it is very colourful, and interested fans will definitely prefer the1080p Blu-ray presentation. The film starts visually quite strong with a subway scene that recalls the original Anime, and the majority of Steve Norrington’s Blade with deathly deep blacks spiked by solid reds, flawless whites, and steel blues. From here the film takes cues from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and the Anime again for Neon baked cities, and bright, bleached yellow daylight scenes. The colours of the daylight scenes are less sharply separated, but the gradations are still smooth. Dark scenes are often framed with the super dark blacks, then painted with solid, cartoon-like hues that don’t bleed or feature any major noise. The details during these scenes are consistent, and beyond SD, but not super sharp due to the focal choices. For sharp details viewers should check out the somewhat grainier, golden coloured flashback scenes. The contrast is not as extreme, but the details are surely more impressive, including craggy facial skin, rice patties, and lush forests. The clunky digital blood effects appear even less a part of the live action than they do on the DVD version, and the lack of textures on the digital creatures are readily apparent.
Blood: The Last Vampire features an unsurprisingly stylized soundtrack, filled with all manner of swishing swords, whooshing demon wings, pounding rain, clanging metal, and splattering blood. The sound design, here presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, is a bit thinner than expected for moderately budgeted action/monster movie, but most of the bits that count are full-bodied, LFE supported, and appropriately delegated to the most obvious channel. The good fight scene involving the old man dispatching dozens of ninjas is a great example of the value of balance on an action track. The dynamics are very impressive. I have complaints concerning the softness of some of the added creature effects, and the opposing loudness of some of the unmotivated effects. The sound designers use a digital skipping effect on some of the slow motion voices and practical effects. These often stand out pretty loudly on the track, and are odd enough to sound like a mistake. Dialogue is always clear (outside of accents), but the sound quality is unnatural, and the lip-sync doesn’t match up, especially on the ESL performers, who may have been dubbed, or redubbed themselves in post. Concerning the score, I’m amazed at how quickly I was able to recognize Clint Mansell as one of the major contributors. Mansell is hardly giving a full effort, but his brand of electronica adds an iota of class to the project, as do the era pop music choices. Despite clear problems, Blood is a much better period film than Wolverine was.
The extras here are decidedly weak, which is really too bad because there’s clearly an interesting behind-the-scenes story to the production. The extras start with a general making-of featurette (19:00, SD), which is mostly made up of raw, fly on the wall footage from the set, but is punctuated by occasional cast and crew interview. The interviews are tired, and uninformative, but the footage reveals a deleted fight with an afro’d dude in a meat locker. This is followed by ‘Battling Demons’ (17:00, SD), a similar featurette more closely concerned with Cory Yuen and his stunt team. The stunts look more impressive without the cutting. Besides a whole bunch of Sony trailers, the Blu-ray also features a storyboard gallery.
Blood: The Last Vampire features just enough style over substance eye-candy to likely please fans of the original Anime, which it’s pretty faithful to, at least in as much as I can remember. I recommend the film about as much as I recommend Dragonball Evolution, though even with a single superior fight scene (one that apes Zyang Yimou so much it requires a banana) it doesn’t have a Chow Yun-Fat caliber performance in the bunch. Dragonball also moved its plot along at a merciful pace, whereas even at only 89 minutes Blood drags. There’s something here, but it would take another pass at the editing station, and a couple more render hours at the CGI station. I recommend seeking out the polar oppositely toned Cutie Honey live action adaptation instead. Actually, see them both, comparing and contrasting the two films, which are equally charged by style over substance, proves quite entertaining. Apparently comedy goes a long way with me, as I also vehemently recommend Azumi, The Guyver, Zebraman, and especially Speed Racer for those looking to quench a live action anime thirst. Fans of the original Anime will get something out of Blood, and the curious may want to try a rent. At the very least the video quality is nearly flawless, and colourful enough to give your 1080p set a real workout.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 20th October 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH and French
Extras: Making-Of, Battling Demons, Storyboard Gallery, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Chris Nohan
Cast: Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Liam Cunningham, JJ Feild, Koyuki
Genre: Action and Horror
Length: 89 minutes
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