Review: Anime hit goes live-action in Blood: The Last Vampire

Blood: The Last Vampire is a live-action expansion of a popular anime film that was released in 2000 and was only 48 minutes long. That award-winning anime film was dark and visual, and it was an appropriate depiction of a very cool manga story, but it skimped on some of the characters and some great fighting sequences and seemed to keep the audience wanting more. Now, there is more.

Born to a human father and a vampire mother, Saya looks like a normal sullen teen-age girl, but she's really 400 years old. She is sent by a shady group called The Council (who appear very much like the Men in Black squad) to dispatch demonic shape-shifting vampires that are hiding out at a military base. One particular draw to this latest assignment for Saya, however, is that she is asked to destroy Onigen, the evil patriarch of all vampires—and the creature who killed her father.

So, she goes to the Yokota U.S. Air Force base near Tokyo in her most stereotypical tight-skirted Japanese schoolgirl outfit and tries to blend in to the student population—facing the expected giggles and ridicule of being the new weird student.

The lead role of Saya is played by Gianna (known in Asia as Jeon Ji-hyun). The Korean-born 27-year-old actress is perfect as a coquettish spy who has some really deep, dark secrets inside her. Although she's performed in genre films before, such as Il Mare and Uninvited, this is her first martial-arts action role, and she supposedly does many of her own stunts—which are superb. She delivers her lines with a sense of humor and self-parody, which makes her even more likable.

This manga story spawned an animated series and a video game, but I think this live-action version is much more interesting than the animated shorter version. I think director Chris Nahon turned it into an action thriller that is exciting from the first scene.

The opening scene is rather intense as it stages a fight scene on a subway train in 1970. It's not clear who is stalking whom, but an average-looking guy turns into a demon, and the normal-looking teen turns into a superhero.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon producer Bill Kong is involved in the movie, and so some of the fantastic fight sequences are incorporated. The entire movie is visually stunning, and the action scenes are breathtaking from beginning to end.

I also loved the acting, especially by the female characters. Bad girl Onigen is played with delicious evil and beauty, like the wicked queen in Snow White, by a Japanese model-turned-actress named Koyuki. And the only friend that Saya finds at the U.S. base is Alice, played by actress Allison Miller (who must be forgiven for appearing opposite Zac Efron in 17 Again).

The friendship between Alice and Saya get almost too close for comfort when they fall into a blood-drinking ritual. And it's Alice who helps Saya find her human side and eventually unlocks the key to conquering her mortal enemy.

Then Saya has a Kato, too. Not to be confused with a sidekick, this guy is an icy-eyebrowed mentor to the wise young girl. He is played by veteran kung-fu action star Yasuaki Kurata, who was known to give Bruce Lee a pair of nunchucks, which made the weapon famous throughout the world.

Anyway, the fight scenes are memorable, whether they are out in the remote woods against a group of ninjas or in the rainy city streets of Tokyo. Don't think this is a romantic vampire movie, because it's appropriately devoid of too much bloodsucking, but there is certainly enough blood.

Bottom line, I think this is a world-class film! It contains great martial arts and great storytelling, and it turns the vampire genre on its ear.

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