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Hugh David pits the live-action Last Vampire against the anime

With the animated versions of Saya’s vampire-slaying adventures now into its third incarnation in both TV and feature versions, most recently featured in the release of Blood C:  The Last Dark, one feels compelled to ponder in some depth the abject failure of the 2009 live-action version one of Sony’s few key 21st century animated franchises.  Given how many more hits than flops there have been in this century’s waves of live-action adaptation, it takes a really unusual combination of events to render such a disappointing film.

On paper, there seemed some considerable potential.  French commercials and music video director Chris Nahon was already something of a genre specialist by this point, making one of Jet Li’s finest Western films in the bone-crunching Kiss of the Dragon and helming the second adaptation  of best-selling author Jean-Christophe Grangé’s works with Empire of the Wolves, a Jean Reno-starring thriller.  The latter’s extended climax in Turkey, as well as some nicely-handled moments of weirdness early on, combined with the action from the first film, suggested he could handle an international production of the level planned by Pathé and HK production company Edko for Blood: The Last Vampire.

Screenwriter Chris Chow was hot off Ronny Yu’s cracking 2006 Jet Li flick Fearless.  Legendary Hong Kong director and fight choreographer Cory Yuen Kwai (the man behind Jet Li and Jason Statham’s signature moves) and his talented team were lined up for the action, and Korean household name Jun Ji-hyun (the original My Sassy Girl) was cast as the lead, planned as her big international debut under the more English-friendly name Gianna Jun.  Stalwart Brits Michael Byrne, J.J. Feild, Colin Salmon and Liam Cunningham filled out the cast alongside Japanese veterans Yasuaki Kurata and Koyuki.  Fantastic Brit musician & composer Clint Mansell was going to ice the cake.

So what went wrong with the film, yet so right with the anime? One wonders if the shift from the original production – Edko producing under license from Production I.G, Ronny Yu directing – to an international one led to an increase in unreachable expectations, with a budget of $30 million.  Or if the shifting trends in international action cinema courtesy of the Bourne series led to the decision to position cameras and edit scenes to such a degree the audience could not actually see clearly the Yuen Clan’s usually-stunning fight choreography.

For anime fans, however, the problem lies in the storyline.  Unlike a large portion of the international film and TV business, anime fans are perfectly at home with strong, self-sufficient heroines without need of saving or redeeming by a man, be they love interest or family member, or who need to have every aspect of who they are explained away through back-story.  We also don’t need for the Asian lead to be sidelined for a good chunk of the story in fear that international audiences won’t stay to the end.

This version of Saya’s story tries to change that, swapping the daddy issues of practically every Hollywood heroine of the last twenty years for mummy issues, but they remain as trite and basic as the former.  Instead of a heroine we can cheer for, however dark her actions, we are left with a character denuded of any sense of mystique or awe at her prowess and strengths.  Sometimes, anime really is the best medium for a story.

Blood C: The Last Dark is available on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

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