Genre: Friendship Drama Involving Guns and Vampires
review in one breath
The year is 2014 and a young orphan in a squalid urban wasteland befriends a vampire! As the years go by, the young boy grows into a formidable ruffian capable of causing problems for the local yakuza thugs. Their violent lifestyle, however, puts their friendship to the test when ultimate decisions will need to be made. Starring pop rock stars Gackt and Hyde, this intentionally cute and weepy tale undoubtedly has mass appeal to high school girls throughout Japan.
This is primarily a film about the bond of friensdhip between the two leading characters, the young man Sho and his life-long friend Kei who happens to be an ageless vampire. Sho is played by pop rock star Gackt and Kei is played by Hyde (Takarai Hideto), also a pop rock star. This film basically serves as a showcase for these two as well as both their theatrical debuts. Gackt had previously appeared on a television show and a straight-to-video production, but this marks his first theatrical role. This likewise is Hyde's first acting role. Gackt is said to have had a hand in the writing of this story, though to what degree I don't know. He also performs the closing theme song of the film.
The film is directed by Zeze Takahisa who has had a relatively prolific directorial career comprised on nearly 50 films over the last two decades. His genre of choice seems to swing between erotic pink fare and SF/Quasi-Horror. He has made at least one prior vampire film, the 2000 straight-to-video Bureedo: Chi o Suu Kodomo (Breed/Bleed?: The Blood Sucking Child) starring predominantly young adolescent girls.
This film is actually quite ambitious, probably overly so. First, it attempts to set itself in a nearly apocalyptic future wherein Japan and Taiwan have been overrun by a monolithic China. Thus Japanese and Taiwanese orphans run side by side in dilapidated urban centers comprised of hybrid cultures and languages. To accomplish this, Zeze utilizes Taiwanese actors for about half the roles, with Cantonese being spoken on and off by even the Japanese cast throughout the film. Portions of the film appear to have been filmed in Taiwan, particularly the street and skyline scenes, although the depiction of "squalidness" is limited to the interior of the warehouse they use for several scenes.
The film also wants to be a full throttle action film and thus contains a myriad of scenes involving near face-to-face gun battles. Since the character Sho possesses no superhuman vampiric abilities, the narrative attempts to demonstrate his seemingly uncanny skill and bravery with his guns. Unfortunately, this translates into very low-budget attempts at Matrix-like abilities. He can shoot furiously, hitting every target and reloading without effort, all while gracefully jumping around. And YES he can dodge bullets just like Neo in Matrix, so much so that he can be looking the other way, hear the gun fire, turn and look toward the shooter and then duck as the smoke trail of the bullet passes by. How can he possibly possess such amazing skills? Most likely because Gackt had a hand in writing the story for his own character...
And finally, there is the whole vampire theme, which in essence gets tacked on to the story almost as an afterthought. The vampire Kei seems to go through bouts of self-loathing while attempting to abstain from drinking blood. During these periods, he looks quite sad, pale and withdrawn. Such bouts apparently end with a vigorous drink from the arteries of his victims while displaying an obviously happy (and toothy) grin. There is basically only one vampire throughout the entire film, and his vampirism has very little to do with the narrative, except perhaps for justifying Sho's extraordinary training and by adding a "timeless" aspect to their friendship. Audiences will be haunted by reminiscences of other recent vampire films while watching this. The atmospheric and visual parallels to Blade are nothing short of glaring, and at least one scene seems to come straight out of Interview with a Vampire.
For these reasons, the vampire motif seems to comprise an extra layer over the core narrative, there simply to enhance the mystique of one of the main characters. But despite bullet dodging and blood sucking, this film's predominant theme involves the bonds of friendship between Sho and Kei and between Sho and his childhood friends/brothers. This could have easily, and perhaps more effectively, been a far more realistic tale centered upon these relationships and using yakuza for tension, while getting rid completely of the vampire and apocalyptic elements, since the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to create these inevitably bring this film down to barely mediocre status.
This may have appeal to some on a couple levels. First, it achieves a sort of weepy, love-story status, but between the two male characters, both of whom happen to be heart-throb idols for a ton of swooning females. And it is a decent story of friendship if you can look through all the extra bells and whistles thrown on top of it.
The multi-cultural aspect here is respectable. Two up and coming talents in Hong Kong and collaborative films (like this one) are cast here. Lee-Hom Wang is cast as Son, Sho's equally skilled nemesis, and Zeny Kwok plays Yi-Che, the lone female role in this film and thus everyone's secret love. Apart from Gackt and Hyde, these two play the lead secondary roles here and are highly visible throughout the entire narrative.
But if you are interested in this film either as a vampiric horror or even a plausible sci-fi or action film, you may be rather disappointed by the less-than-impressive efforts to pull these off. In essence this boils down to an emotional story about two friends, both of whom have a wide fan base consisting of young girls, playing the role of two mysterious guys whose heroic qualities of coolness are both inexplicably off the charts.
Version reviewed: Region 1 Subtitled DVD available at all mainstream venues
|Exactly where is Maleppa?||Gun violence ad naseum. Some fangless neck chomping (but only on bad guys).||Only one very shy mute girl amongst this film's male cast.||A decent story of friendship, though it would have been far better without all the other narrative crap piled on.|