Day 5…. and we’re off to Korea for a live action remake of a Japanese anime classic, “Blood, The Last Vampire”…. and another story about Japanese schoolgirls doing what apparently they do best….. kicking serious supernatural butt.
Our quick synopsis goes like this here: “Demons have infested the earth. And only one warrior stands against them between the dark and the light: Saya, a 400-year-old half human-half vampire samurai girl who preys on those who feast on human blood.
Raised by a man named Kato, she works loosely with a shadowy society known as the Council while following her own personal quest to seek out Onigen, the original Mother of all Vampires. Saya is dispatched to an American military base at Yokota, where the vampires have infiltrated the base and are gathering their strength there for an evil purpose. Normally a loner, Saya forms an unlikely friendship with a young girl named Alice, daughter of the base commander, that she rescued from the undead. She finds that Onigen is finally close at hand and so now, after 400 years, Saya’s final hunt is about to begin.”
This one served as part two of my “Schoolgirl Horror Movie Theme Night”…. and I was hoping for a big smashing vampire stomping good time to end my evening… The anime it’s based on was great, if a wee bit short, so was this one going to answer all my expectations or was it gonna fail miserably? Guess if you want to know more you’ll just have to “Read On” and find out!!
There have been a lot of people weighing in with some fairly negative opinions on this one all over the internet just since it’s Korean theatrical release…. Your Favorite Catgirl’s never been one to listen to that sort of talk without realizing much of it always comes from detail obsessed anime fanboys all somehow upset that the movie they’ve waited for for a year or so deviated slightly from it’s original source….. Sigh... More negativity came along from those all bent out of shape about the idea of a Japanese girl being played by a Korean actress….. seems whenever some silly bigotry can rear it’s ugly head it will…. Sigh….. Ah, yes…. and then there’s the idea of Hollywood having the nerve to think they can get involved in the production of an Asian film at all…. Can’t most people just drop all this kind of goofiness and watch the movie first before dumping on it? I most certainly would like to give it a try.
It starts out pretty much as the anime did, with that sequence on the train…. where Saya chases down what seems to be an ordinary enough guy and slices him to bits with her trademark katana…. was he a bloodsucking monster or not? We never know here…. as the film immediately uses this scene merely to set up the tension between her and her two “handlers” in the mysterious “Council”, one who sort of pities the sad young/old vampire girl and the other who’d rather see her as dead as the bloodsuckers she hunts for them. It helps to establish the invisible wall that exists around Saya, separating her from the rest of humanity and making her forever the “Outsider”…. valuable, but never to be entirely trusted either.
You’ll probably be surprised to find at this point that the film is an entirely English dialog one… (Well… mostly, there are a few Japanese characters in a Flashback sequence that speak subtitled Japanese) even though it was made in Korea and originally premiered there theatrically. This worked out well for me, as it immediately made the film more accessible to my sweet Carolyn who dreads my subtitled films….. It didn’t take long for her to be as absorbed in the simple story as I was. That’ll be a plus for most Western audiences too.
Next Saya is sent to the US military base at Yokota, just as in the anime, to investigate and eliminate the vampires infesting the place. Here’s where the story starts to depart from it’s source. Once there in the guise of a simple schoolgirl, she has that battle you might remember from the anime with the blonde vampire spawn…. but this time it’s not a friendly school nurse that befriends her… instead it’s the young daughter of the base commander Alice who becomes that connection to the humanity Saya has lost over the long centuries of grim hunting and lonely wandering. The film actually does benefit from this, despite some reviewers assertions that Alice is an “unnecessary” character added only to bolster appeal for the US market. It’s an unfair assumption and misses the point of giving the audience a hook to get inside Saya’s secret need to somehow feel “normal” and to share the things humans take for granted. In the 45 minute anime, such ideas were unneeded…. but if you want to expand those ideas, this is where you’d inevitably have to go.
The character of Alice is the perennial “problem child” for her stern by the book father… always sneaking off base to party or otherwise rebel against his authority just to make him look bad to the military types around him. When she tells dad that the new Japanese student killed two of her classmates in a no holds barred sword duel to save her from them, he’s not going to believe it…. but he’s also not happy about the two suspicious “Men in Black” that follow Saya around on his base acting like they own the place either. They say they are CIA… but somehow the general knows that’s a line of crap….
It isn’t long before Alice goes all “Nancy Drew” on us and decides to follow her kendo teacher into town the next dark night…. She just knows he ordered the two girls to try to kill her… and darn it, she wants to find out why. Big ol’ mistake indeed!! He lets her catch up to him the the biggest vampire lair in the city, located in the seediest back alley bar in town. Revealing their true natures, the vampire proceed to have some fun hunting her through that maze of confusing streets…. until Saya arrives to spoil their fun. Here the film unleashes it’s CGI enhanced action at it’s fullest in a deliberately unrealistic fusion of superhero/anime/wuxia fighting that never seeks to look realistic…. much to many other reviewers dismay, but that’s the whole point!! I think you have to just accept that this is supposed to be the same wacky “Hercules & Xena Warrior Princess” style of fighting that made those two series so popular. It’s about how many crazy, gravity defying, blood spraying kills Saya can manage…. and less about the accurate style of Martial Arts the choreographer uses. This sequence wasn’t bad at all…. considering you didn’t want to spend a ridiculous amount of real time to train a Korean actress to become Jet Li just for one movie. The rapid cuts and editing work… yes, it makes the action slightly confusing to watch…. just as it would be if you actually witnessed a hundred or so crazed vampires pile on a sword swinging schoolgirl. Eventually, the kendo teacher tries to carry Alice away, leading us back to the base and another scene right from the anime as it tries in vain to escape Saya by hitching a ride on a cargo plane.
Meanwhile we see the arrival of the mysterious woman, Onigen, Saya’s eternal nemesis…. and one reeeaally creepy bitch. She shows up at a hotel and kills the owner with a show of mystic power simply out of bored spite at being annoyed by his killing of a spider. Saya finds out about her, but only as the rift between her handlers reaches it’s breaking point. The more junior of the two flexes his muscle by killing Alice’s father…. and then his own superior…. framing the whole thing on Saya so he can have the excuse he needs to eliminate her once and for all… Alice knows the truth, and goes on the run with Saya…. one step ahead of the military, the Council, and coming inexorably closer to Onigen and the truth behind her father’s death all those centuries ago.
The girls eventually duel the one eyed vampire ninja underling of Onigen, and although Saya gets badly wounded, is saved by Alice, who listens to her tale of that time sooo sooo long ago when her family and foster father were killed, setting her on the road of vengeance. We get a flashback sequence… to feudal Japan full of evil vampire ninjas, and Saya’s foster dad, a hermit yamabushi who taught her the ways of the sword before dying while saving her from them. I wish more time had been lavished here… as the story seems incomplete without seeing Saya’s real father… but I suppose that’s necessary given the twist that’s needed for the ending of this one. Yep…. it’s “Spoiler Alert” time here…. for I can’t really weigh in on the ending without giving that secret away.
Seems that the mom Saya’s never known is actually Onigen herself… and it’s her Mom who killed her father and has manipulated everything simply to hone Saya into a deadly weapon capable of succeeding her as the new Queen of Vampires…. but by this point you sorta guessed that one anyway. There’s a final duel of course…. another big effects laden fight in which Saya must defeat her evil mom and still maintain the core of humanity that she keeps hidden away from the world. It’s not a bad fight… but I had really expected a bit more of one. Something to rival the finale of “Azumi”, say, with Saya battling hordes of demons summoned as a final test by her ultra powerful mother before squaring off against her. But we don’t get that sadly…… a missed opportunity I think. Afterward… Alice returns home to the military base…. giving that taped interview you remember from the anime, while Saya disappears again, wandering away again in search of those vampires who still hide among the multitudes of the world….(and setting up the possibility for “Blood 2” if this one is successful at the box office…)
So…. Your Favorite Catgirl liked this one overall, despite some minor quibbles, and although it isn’t the big blockbuster film many had hoped for, it does a good job of moving the anime to the live screen, always a hard transition under the best of circumstances. Korean actress Jun Ji-hyun aka Gianna Jun does a very nice job as Saya, and I can’t really find fault with any of the other actors here either….. Carolyn liked it…. and that alone is rare praise indeed given that very few films she enjoys have any vampires or swordfighting schoolgirls in them at all… Hehehehe!! So, in conclusion, I can give “Blood, The Last Vampire” a respectable 3 “Meows” out of 5 and can recommend it to those who like this sort of Western/ Asian hybrid action film. Most fans of feisty Japanese schoolgirls will probably be happy with it too. If you haven’t seen the theatrical release yet, definitely give the DVD a look when it becomes available in your neck of the woods.
With a big budget film like this one, you just know there’s gonna be a Trailer… but in case you missed it, here it is again for your viewing pleasure.