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rochefort [Film Festival 03.31.10] movie review horror vampires comic

Year: 2009
Directors: Tae-gyun Kim
Writers: Kôji Matsumoto / Tetsuya Ôishi
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 4 out of 10

On the island of Higanjima, populated almost entirely by vampires, hero Atsushi (Dai Watanabe) wages a daily war with the bloodsuckers, dispatching each with a gruesome bamboo battering ram. Back on the Japanese mainland, his brother Akira (Hideo Ishiguro) and his friends learn that his missing brother may yet still be alive, so they head to the island to bring him back, and are soon locked in sword-to-fang combat with the living dead.

Okay, so when I hear there's yet another vampire film out there, regardless of the fact that it's a Korean/Japanese co-production, it's still a bit difficult to get excited, even if the film in question features katana-weilding vampire slayers. Harkening back to the days of rampant genre-busting Honk Kong action movies, "Higanjima", adapted from the manga, is super-loyal to the standards of the HK heyday, but unfortunately suffers more than it shines. The tone is jaggedly uneven, the story opening with an impressive prologue but then quickly shifting to light high-school quasi-comedy, then ping-ponging from adventure to melodrama to quasi-horror and back again once they reach the island. This certainly shouldn't serve as anyone's initiation into the world of Asian genre film, but if you're even marginally acclimated with the likes of Tsui Hark you'll be able to settle in just fine. If you're hoping for an action/horror along the lines of the second "Blade" film (my personal favorite of the trilogy), however, it's probably best to go ahead and lower those expectations now, and dramatically. If anything, this has the most in common with the recent live-action "Blood, the Last Vampire" mixed with "Daybreakers". I didn't much care for either of those, so you can guess where I'm coming from.

The performances are a lot like the script itself in that they zig-zag pretty chaotically from one extreme to the next, and we never really draw much of a bead on any character save the quiet loner Atsushi, who is admittedly charismatic. At least he is when he isn't sharing much time with his whiny and/or sneering co-stars, who often end up sucking the fun out of his character. The rules of the vampire mythology are also pretty scattershot: they walk around in daylight, for starters, and it's never explained which specific rules apply to this particular version of the undead. Their backstory on the island is likewise muddy and poorly handled, and when the gang of good guys discovers a rowdy band of resistance fighters (a genre plot staple that should be officially retired for at least a decade), it's never made clear why the unaffected humans stay good while all the transformed islanders turn decidedly bad. We're also never told why the leader wears a funky mask. Or maybe by that point I'd stopped paying attention.

But let's be honest here. If you're like me, then when you hear "Japanese warriors fight vampires with samurai swords", especially when the trailer calls to mind (in places) the brilliant "Battle Royale", you already know that you're obligated to watch at least once. The reason for this probably comes down to the fact that, during the era when Honk Kong dominated the international action field, even the least inventive films of the bunch almost always had superb action sequences. Maybe it's the fact that we've seen just enough arguably fantastic action/horror films that the best moments of "Higanjima" feel adequate at best, and at worst tired and redundant. And the truth is that I can't really remember any specific standout moment of a single one of the action scenes. What really sticks with me are the drastic shifts in tone, performances and special effects that are mostly adequate but occasionally quite crappy, and an absolutely wasted premise. For completists only.

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Marina (10 years ago) Reply

Oh that's disappointing, especially when the trailer looked so badass.


Hal (10 years ago) Reply

I liked the first 30 mins or so, but I agree it pretty much lost it. I hear the manga's pretty good, and this movie isn't that faithful to the manga.

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