Somewhere in between the fast-paced creature hunt in Blade and the spurting blood luridness in Kill Bill lies Blood: The Last Vampire, a super-stylized bloodbath from Chris Nahon, director of Kiss of the Dragon. A healthy dose of slinging blades, blood spatter and candy-coated photography adorn this adaption of the 2000 anime film of the same name, galloping along at a pace that's aimed at keeping those thirsty for action satisfied. That's about all it's going to satisfy, since the computer-generated elements and poor scripting drain the life-force from this purely visceral stream of battles.
Saya (Korean actress Gianna Jun from the amazing My Sassy Girl), first dressed in a fashion befitting the lead in Park Chan-wook Lady Vengeance, lays waste to a vampire with a katana in the middle of a speeding train. She's a half-human, half-vampire -- apparently the last of her kind -- who hacks up more monstrous bloodsuckers for an organization called "The Council", though it's pretty clear that she does it more to purge the vampiric side from her otherwise human body. Blood: The Last Vampire follows through with this excitement by cooking up a story that clearly has one agenda in mind: to get our hero in a traditional Japanese schoolgirl uniform and have her hack through a multitude of her enemies. To give the story a little spice, she's thrown into the school located on Yokota air Force Base in pre-Vietnam '70s to weed out undercover vampires. Saya eventually links up with Alice (Allison Miller), the daughter of one of the high-ranking officials on base, after she saves the "army brat" from being hacked to pieces by undercover vampires.
Blood: The Last Vampire suffers from many of the same logic-bending silliness present in Azumi, an equally brainless Japanese action flick adapted from a manga -- only Gianna Jun is far more convincing as a heroine. Having spent several months training for the action sequences, she acts the part of stone-faced, sword-weiling Saya with plenty of charisma and gravitas. Her energy is almost enough to justify Chris Nahon's picture on its own, as the Korean actress is certainly a force to be reckoned with. The rest of the cast, however, can be chalked up in the same column with the far-fetched special effects, since at best none of them stray beyond mildly-convincing caricatures of their intended personas. They're more indistinct that performed poorly, aside from a few glaring exceptions -- including an obnoxious CIA agent. The writing is where the problems crop up in their characters, offering little more than a string of disproportionate silliness in its dialogue that meshes weakly with live-action tones.
But, honestly, the story is pretty unimportant to the flow, clearly not the focus in Blood: The Last Vampire. Though it hints at a glimmer or two of depth with Saya's past, including her heritage as a hybrid vampire and her relationship with her sage-like trainer, they devolve to little more than action pieces with nothing on their mind but brutality. Nahon's aim is to lop off limbs and heads in a whirlwind of blood and brightly-colored, cool-looking visuals, with a load of embellishment from computer-generated splattering. None of the special effects are particularly convincing, especially the heavy density of red stuff being spurted in every which direction imaginable. With more strategic placement, it could've sold the lurid experience well; like this, the effects take us out of the picture and into a realm of disbelief, which doesn't bode well for all its thick usage.
Still, even considering its brash overuse of special effects, it's hard not to admire the choreography and get wrapped up in all of the lavish wire-fu stunt work in Blood: The Last Vampire. With that being said, it still delivers the goods as mindless entertainment, offering an action-heavy blur of slicing and dicing through vampiric cannon fodder, though the style to substance ratio is obviously skewed. Rich photography adorns these elaborately-choreographed sequences, capturing bright, neon-infused Asian set design along with natural forest-placed locales. It's a great backdrop for Saya's angst-riddled bloodshed, and that's all we can really expect from this non-suspenseful hack 'n slasher.
Video and Audio:
Blood: The Last Vampire comes from Sony in a 2.35:1, 1080p AVC encode that emphasizes a lush color palette and natural film grain, coming together in a strong presentation of a largely visual film. Many blasts of neon shades bombard the image throughout, from orange-red lanterns dangling from roof fixtures to brightly-lit signs -- though they largely dominate near the center chunk of the picture near our first large battle between Saya and the "vampires". It's a largely overblown visual style with heavily saturatedshading, yet there's still a competency in contrast with this AVC image that keeps mid-range darker elements visible. Other sequences, such as the scene in the woods, exhibit a more natural ambiance that emphasizes fluid skin tones and proper detail rendering, both of which look rather striking. Grain can get a little heavier than expected and some compression fluctuations crop up in a few spots, but Blood: The Last Vampire looks exceedingly sharp in this presentation.
To match the video, Sony has also offered up a combo English/Japanese DTS HD Master Audio track that's pretty darn active. The slicing of blades and the splatter of blood are coursing through this picture spread across the soundstage, carrying across potent diagonal tangents from front to back at several points. The lower-frequency and mid-range bass levels are strategically used by emphasizing kicks and falls against the ground in natural fashion. Even amid all of the high-octane activity, it sounds crisp, clean, and without distortion at any point. Subtitles, which appear directly below the 2.35:1 image in typical Sony fashion, are available in crisp white font in English, English SDH and French languages. Only the mostly English DTS Master Audio track is available for sound options.
Making of Blood: The Last Vampire (19:07, Non-16x9 SD MPEG-2):
Take away the narration from the typical assembly featurette and that's what you've got with this assembly piece. Interview time with the actors and filmmakers are spliced into behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the film; however, the expanses of raw footage are surprisingly lengthy, showcasing the extensive wire-fu activity and Gianna Jun's extensive training.
Battling Demons (16:48, Non-16x9 SD MPEG-2):
Practically a carry-over from the first featurette, this one focuses more on the battle aspects of Blood: The Last Vampire. It regurgitates some of the same interview footage into this piece, yet more behind-the-scenes footage -- especially concentrating on the intensity of the fight sequences and the run-amuck nature of Gianna Jun's performance -- are well worth the watch.
Also included are three Blu-ray exclusive Storyboards for the Gym Fight, Powell Chase, Monk Fight sequences. Each one makes the sketches available to view by themselves or in motion -- with a few different speeds available through a small lever-like switch to the left. Also, this disc has been BD-Live enabled, with access to Sony's online offering of trailers and other non-Last Vampire centered features. Other than that, we've got a few HD Previews -- one of which for Moon, which really spiked my excitement for the Blu-ray release.
For what it's worth and what it sets out to do, Blood: The Last Vampire dishes out enough sword-wielding chaos to satisfy those hunting for a lavish slaughter-style action flick. That's all it has going for it though, since weak scripting and some rather obnoxious outside performances weigh down any thematic satisfaction. Still, between Gianna Jun's piercing-eyed delivery as killer schoolgirl hero Saya and the lavishness of the battle sequences constructed around her, there's at least primal entertainment to take away from Chris Nahon's picture. Sony's Blu-ray, however, is a rather strong effort in the visual and aural department, making it a heftily recommended Rental for the sheer experience in its sanguine indulgence.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site