Should you shell out 10 clams to see Blood: The Last Vampire? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for. Solid acting, remotely believable dialogue, a coherent plot? If so, save your money for a David Mamet box set. But if you want teenage demon slayers, slow-motion sword symphonies, and action scenes of kung-fu fighting babes, this is the stuff. The film opens with a mini history lesson: Back in the 16th century, a grumpy demon named Onigen had some violent, epic battle with humans and vampires. Apparently, it was a big mess. Cut to 1970s Tokyo where this “vilest demon” is still prowling the earth, looking for trouble. Luckily, half-human/half-vampire Saya (Gianna Jun) is ready to kick some demon derriere — within the first three minutes of the film, she slices a creepy dude in half without breaking a sweat. Young and innocent-looking, Saya’s steely stare, perfect hair, and super shiny sword leave no doubt that she’s a real badass. She doesn’t say much, but when she does, it’s usually to reiterate her tough-chick status: “I don’t investigate. I kill.”
Chris Nahon’s Blood: The Last Vampire — a live-action remake of a nearly decade-old anime feature by the same name — unfolds at a United States air force base in Tokyo during the Vietnam War. Saya works for a goofy group of CIA operatives who speak in halting, monotone voices and wear duds straight out of a ’40s noir. Saya’s assignment? Go undercover as a student at a military academy and exterminate some demons. Once there, Saya meets Alice McKee (Allison Miller), a spunky American outcast and the daughter of the base’s General. An early scene features Saya defending Alison from nasty high school bullies, who just happen to also be demons. The ensuing sword and kung fu battle in the gymnasium, concluding with a dramatic decapitation, plays out against the heavy groove of Deep Purple’s classic “Space Truckin’.” For just a moment, it seems the film might have some cheap-thrills potential; alas, this is the only Deep Purple song featured here, and the level of energy and excitement it carries with it likewise never again manifests. Although Saya is perfectly content slaughtering bottom-feeder high school villains, her work requires her to go toe-to-toe with evil of a bigger, badder sort… and by the time the demon Onigen shows up in the form of a tall supermodel, the movie has lost any momentum it might have had. Imagine Blade Runner meets The Big Sleep in 1970s Japan, but nowhere near as interesting as that probably sounds.
Additionally, Nahon’s action sequences are often less than effective: lightning-quick cuts combine with disorienting close-ups to create a flurry of images that botch the continuity of the scenes, and leave the viewer confused about who was doing what to whom. In addition, all of the fight scenes utilize genre-standard speed-ramped kung fu choreography, padded with The Matrix-style slow-motion and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s brand of flying-through-the-air maneuvers. It’s admittedly often entertaining on its surface, but it’s not doing anything new or interesting. And despite a short runtime (barely 90 minutes) and primary focus on its action, the film bogs down for long stretches — especially when the story gets sentimental and delves into Saya’s prickly past, details we don’t need. In fact, much of the story is unnecessarily muddled and uninteresting, and the film’s robotic performances don’t help matters either. Worst of all, Blood: The Last Vampire doesn’t exactly make good on its title: it’s short on both blood and vampires.