'Blood: The Last Vampire'

There will be plenty of the red stuff spilled in "Blood: The Last Vampire."

There will be plenty of the red stuff spilled in “Blood: The Last Vampire,” a live-action adaptation of the cult 2001 anime, though oddly enough, none of the damage is caused by vampires. Instead, it’s a 400-year-old samurai named Saya (forever 16 in the flesh) who’s responsible for most of the bloodletting. Charged with ridding the world of demons and vampires, she slashes her way through all manner of supernatural adversaries in this peculiar blend of horror tropes and Hong Kong action devices. Western prospects look slim, though the pic is polished enough to suck in genre fans back East.

The internationally executed project cuts a wider swath than the material might suggest: Staged in China and Argentina by French helmer Chris Nahon (“Kiss of the Dragon”) with a diverse talent roster that ranges from Korean star Gianna (known as Jeon Ji-hyun in her home country) to American, Japanese and European supporting players, “Blood” seems engineered to appear Hollywood-made to its Asian target aud. However, while foreign viewers are apt to focus on the action, native English speakers can’t help but notice the sheer awkwardness of the perfs.

The first half of the film hews close to the original anime before expanding to accommodate a new backstory, which owes a good deal to the American-made “Blade,” in which Wesley Snipes played a sword-wielding half-vampire hybrid. Saya is a similarly conflicted “halfling” tasked with hunting down her own kind, and, as essayed by Gianna, she’s more fetish object than star. The character survives on bottled blood provided by a secret organization called the Council and spends her days picking off vampires brazen enough to show their faces in public.

When the Council assigns Saya to protect the students at a demon-infested American military base, she trades her duds for a kinky seifuku (schoolgirl uniform) and over-the-shoulder poster tube (all the better to conceal her samurai sword) and tries to appear demure among the more outspoken American students. But it’s hard to keep a low profile with bloodsuckers about, and by the end of the day, Saya’s blown her cover to the general’s daughter, Alice (Allison Miller), a mousy girl with an uncanny knack for attracting vampire attacks.

Playing it fast and loose with existing vampire mythology, “Blood” presents Saya’s undead adversaries as lumbering, zombie-like creatures who never pose a sufficient threat to Alice or the others, since Saya is skilled enough to dispatch dozens of them on her own. The most powerful of these attackers are capable of transforming into winged demons, which are rendered in herky-jerky CG, as if in tribute to stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen. (Other effects, including a “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”-style rooftop chase, look merely cartoony).

The collaborator most likely to impress fans of the genre is action director Cory Yuen, the fight choreographer-turned-director responsible for “The Transporter.” However, while Yuen orchestrates at least four noteworthy confrontations, Nahon’s longtime editor Marco Cave seems unfamiliar with Asian action sensibilities, reducing all but one of the fight scenes into a flurry of cuts.

The finale suffers, despite the presence of an all-powerful super vampire (Koyuki) who can make heads explode merely by snapping her fingers. Fortunately, a key flashback in which Saya and her samurai mentor (Yasuaki Kurata) confront a band of undead ninjas survives more or less intact, demonstrating the level at which Yuen and Nahon actually conceived the action. Owing heavily to director Zhang Yimou (whose recent epics also were produced by “Blood’s” Bill Kong), the scene mixes gravity-defying feats of skill with intense hand-to-sword combat amid scenic woods.

Helmer Nahon surfaces in the final scene as a U.S. Army interrogator with a strong French inflection, betraying the film’s ambivalence to accents and acting ability alike. Behind the camera, Nahon privileges surface appeal and kinetic energy over narrative logic, and finesses the footage with an unpleasant yellow tinge that gives everything a vintage chopsocky feel.

Blood: The Last Vampire

Hong Kong-France

Production

A Destination Films/Samuel Goldwyn Films (in U.S.) release of an East Wing Holdings Corp. (Hong Kong)/SAJ (France) presentation in association with Beijing Happy Pictures Cultural Communications. Produced by Bill Kong, Abel Nahmias. Co-producer, Alice Yeung. Directed by Chris Nahon. Screenplay, Chris Chow, based on the 2001 anime film by Kenji Kamiyama, Katsuya Terada.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Poon Hang Sang; editor, Marco Cave; music, Clint Mansell; production designer, Nathan Amondson; art directors, Sun Li, Rika Nakanishi; costume designers, Constanza Balduzzi, Shandy Lui Fun Shan; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Martin Trevis; action director, Cory Yuen; visual effects, Eclair VFX, Menfond Electronic Art & Computer Design; creature and makeup effects, Spectral Motion. Reviewed at Interactive screening room, Los Angeles, June 11, 2009. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Saya - Gianna Alice McKee - Allison Miller Michael - Liam Cunningham Luke - J.J. Field Onigen - Koyuki Kato Takatora - Yasuaki Kurata General McKee - Larry Lamb

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