Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

We recently covered the original 2000 anime “Blood: The Last Vampire”, and enjoyed it enough to track down the live-action semi-remake, made in 2009. Good news – it’s got Davos Seaworth from “Game Of Thrones” in it! Bad news – despite the huge success and popularity of the original, it was released so quietly that I wasn’t even aware it existed til a few months ago!

That original was set in 1966, but someone involved in this wanted the kids at the school to be a little rebellious and hippie-adjacent, and there’s no way army brats would have been dressing like that then, so they moved it forward to 1970 (although, aside from no-one having mobile phones, only lip service is paid to the era it’s set in).

Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

The producers, quite cleverly, decided to fit as many scenes from the original as they could, and also gave us more plot in areas that fans were actually requesting – like, the organisation that Saya works for, more on the creatures she’s hunting, and so on. The initial scene on the train, where Saya hunts down and kills a monster, is present and correct, filmed in an almost identical way – but the guy here fights back at a speed and strength that a normal human couldn’t manage, so the doubt over whether a deranged Saya has just murdered a non-vampire isn’t really there. Oh, and we find out a little more about her, coming from a long line of vampire-hunting samurai, her family slaughtered by the evil Onigen some 400 years ago.

The school on the US Army base that Saya is sent undercover to now has a sympathetic student, the daughter of the General, Alice McKee (Alison Miller, best known as a TV actor these days), replacing the audience-POV nurse from the anime; she’s supposed to be taking part in a martial arts tournament in a few weeks, and the hardass teacher there (British character-actor legend Colin Salmon) wants her to stay behind and train with the two mean girls. But wait, they’re vampires! Into the gym comes Saya, who throws Alice to safety before attacking the two, killing one and forcing the other to escape.

Cunningham is the head of the “Council”, which apparently has CIA backing as they’re able to clean up gore-covered crime scenes and remove the bodies from the base without the General being able to look at what they’re doing. He’s got a sidekick who doesn’t mind antagonising the soldiers, while Cunningham tries to do everything quietly and politely. I wonder if one of them will be a baddie?

As I don’t want to just recap the plot, I’ll mention the ways it’s different to its more famous forebear. There are some huge set-piece fight scenes which feature both some excellent stunt work from Saya (Ji-Hyun Jun) and some dodgy CGI, as she dispatches hundreds of vampires (seriously, how is anyone still alive in 1960s Japan if there are so many bloodsuckers there?) before being forced to escape from the base, with Alice in tow to go in search of Onigen.

I feel like someone involved in this really enjoyed “Hero”, the Jet Li-starring kung-mu masterpiece from 2002 where the camerawork and incredible visuals are perhaps more beloved than the fighting. “Blood” tries to ape some of the more famous scenes, filtered through an anime lens, but while some of them are just fine the only comparison you’ll be making isn’t favourable to this movie.

I liked the final fight, and the extension of the plot, but overall it was a pretty disappointing experience. Ji-Hyun Jun is too much of a blank slate in the central role, and everyone else (with the honourable exception of Cunningham) plays it way too far over the top. There’s precious little expectation of our hero getting in any danger, either, so if you like large over choreographed fight scenes, you might like this. If not, stick with the original.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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