A mousy little man huddles in a corner of a subway train, trying to shrink behind his newspaper. He’s being eyed by a young woman sporting a samurai sword. The tension builds to the point where the man finally bolts for the next car. Just as he’s about to escape, the woman’s sword slices the air…and the man in half…from head to toe.
Anime fans will recognize this as the opening sequence of one of Mamoru Oshii’s best films, Blood: The Last Vampire. What’s impressive is director Chris Nahon has managed to recreate that sequence almost note-for-note and beat-for-beat in the new, big-screen, live action adaptation. Best yet, the sequence works. It’s almost as gripping as the original, done nearly ten years ago.
The simple truth is, unlike many past anime-to-live action adaptations, Blood is actually a very watchable film. At the same time, it doesn’t pack quite the same punch as the original anime.
A key reason for this is the original anime was barely 45 minutes in length. It didn’t stop to contemplate its protagonist’s psyche. Instead, it established itself as a brutal, new interpretation of the vampire genre with little time for sentimentality.
As producer Bill Kong stated in his earlier interview here, there was no way he could get away with something so short. The only theaters that would take a live-action film under one hour are art festivals and similar houses. And this was a man who made serious money in the U.S. with films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Jet Li’s Hero.
On the plus side, most of the new ideas injected by scriptwriter Chris Chow are vast improvement over what was handed fans in the other sequel of the original, the TV series Blood+. Chow keeps the soap opera to a bearable minimum, preferring to let action choreography legend Corey Yuen fill in a lot of the holes for him. Yes, Chow did do some major retconning, such as replacing the second central character of the original (the milquetoast Nurse Amano) for a fellow “teenager,” Alice McKee (played by Allison Miller of the TV series Kings). He also kept the series in Vietnam-Era Japan, primarily based on a U.S. military base, and its eternally young protagonist going undercover as a high school student.
His primary additions are in altering the organization our hero works for, adding some initial tension between Saya and Alice, and giving Saya a totally different origin story. The results are a mixed bag, particularly when it comes to Saya’s interactions between herself and her fellow “teens.”
In the starring role of Saya, Gianna Jun never makes it clear whether she's playing to her role of a basically unemotional killer, or if she’s just not comfortable running around in a high school/sailor suit uniform brandishing a samurai sword, slicing up demons. In added, costumed, flashback scenes, she appears a lot more relaxed and in control with the role.
Yuen’s choreography again comes to the rescue. Whether it’s a medieval sword fight with vampire ninjas or a modern battle in a Tokyo back alley, he comes up with the appropriate combat style. It’s also fun because Jun doesn’t have to emote, just react (although there is a scene or two where she does look like she’s holding on to dear life in the wire scenes). Then again, you shouldn’t expect anything less from the “brother” of Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Woo-Yuen Ping.
In all, while this Blood isn’t a perfect, it’s still an overall competent action piece. Considering recent efforts like the abortion Dragonball: Evolution, one can even say Blood is a truly solid effort. Could it have been better? In the right hands, probably. Yet when you have sequences like the opener running through out the film, you’ll get more than your money’s worth.