Thursday, July 9, 2009

BLOOD: My Sassy Vampire (and Ji-hyun Jun gets her name changed to Gianna!)

What makes BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE so initially intriguing is that either or both of the Chrises at its helm (Nahon, pictured below, who directed, or Chow who wrote the screenplay) decided to give their vampire movie some authentic elements of a good mystery thriller. Who's doing what -- and why -- keeps us guessing, and the betrayals and hair-breadth escapes keep us glued to the screen.

For awhile, at least. The other ace the filmmakers have up their sleeve is choice-of-era: the 1970s, which means every-
thing from Vietnam to the twist, classic cars, hair and fashion.

All this makes the first half of this 89-minute movie move briskly and easily. The first few set pieces -- a confrontation in a gymnasium (the film opens in a school on a American military base in Asia), a chase through the city with two girls being menaced by a slew of fang-bearers, shoot- outs in a swank home and a seedy, noirish hotel -- are choice indeed. It's when the plot thickens (with myth, legend, parentage and a bunch more CGI effects stirred into the mix) that things begin to drag.

In the lead role of the half vampire/half human is a young lady now named Gianna, shown at right, who only a few years ago set hearts atwitter as the adorable nutcase (played by the same actress, then called Ji-hyun Jun) at the heart of the Korean hit My Sassy Girl. Well, Gianna is a lot easier on the international tongue, I suppose. Also in the cast is Allison Miller (shown below, from TV's Kings); Liam Cunningham, who only a couple of months back was seen in a terrific turn as the priest in Hunger (I would call this new assignment a case of extreme slumming); and Koyuki, a famous Japanese model-turned-actress who was graced with a Best Actress in Japan nomination in 2006. (I doubt she'll get one for her over-the-top work here, but--hey--it's a vampire movie, right?)

All of them do their very best against either the bad guys/girls or the good guys/girls, depending on each of their character's predilection (pro fangs or con). What they all finally lose out to, however, is that old "green screen" bugaboo -- acting in a vacuum while the special effects mavens take control of plot, character and everything else. Mr. Nahon, who did a creditable job helming the Jet Li/Bridget Fonda Kiss of the Dragon, does best during the film's initial 45 minutes. Once the big-cheese monster takes over for a pretty much thrill-free climax, the direction might as well be on auto-pilot.

Hong Kong action director/choreographer Corey Yuen has some impressive credits behind him, as well, and indeed his staging of one major fight scene (a bit of which is shown above) in the second half is relatively fun and spectacular. But, unless you just love second-rate special effects, there's finally no way this movie's arc can rise. Vampires are hot right now, they tell us. Blood has enough good things going for it not to curdle this trend, but it might cool it down a bit.

Blood: The Last Vampire opens nationally via Samuel Goldwyn Films this Friday, July 10.


Robert said...

I very much enjoy your blog, since I find out about movies that I likely wouldn't have otherwise. I write for Contemporary Film Criticism (, a blog that, like yours, is dedicated to reviewing new releases. It would be fun to discuss each other's reviews. Would you like to cross-link our blogs?

James van Maanen, said...

Sure -- or at least, I think so -- Robert! Just tell me how to do this, as I am not particularly technologically savvy. And rather than waste readers' time communicating via "comments," just email me at