Shira the Vampire Samurai (DVD)
Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Chona Jason, Adrian Zmed, James Lew, Laurence Dwonch, Joe Mercado
Directed by Simon & Jeff Centauri
NOTE: This is a review of a PAL DVD. The film has you to be released domestically.
The opening prologue sets the tone for the film to come. Feudal Japan: samurais are battling ninjas in the woods to protect a kimono-clad woman who flees. One of these ninjas finally catches up to the woman, reveals himself to be a vampire, and bites her on the neck. Why are they after this particular woman? Who are these others trying to protect her? We don't know. Answers will come later. Confusion will remain constant.
Here's what I do know for certain: That female we saw getting bit by a vampire ninja was Shira. She ends up being only half-vampire for reasons I only half understood. All being a half-vampire really seems to amount to is that she can move around in the sunlight for a limited period of time. Shira is then trained in the ways of the samurai and becomes the film's title heroine in order to embark on an eternal quest to slash and slay the fanged forces of nocturnal evil.
Such an evil is the villainous Kristof, an all-powerful vampire who lurks in a vampire owned and operated strip club. He has been searching for Shira for centuries. Not her specifically, but one of her kind. There's an ancient vampire prophecy about a female half-breed vampire who, if impregnated by a full-blooded vamp, will spawn a master race of vampiric daywalkers. The moment he first encounters Shira, who briefly goes undercover as one of his strippers, Kristof realizes that Shira is the half-breed he must knock up in his quest to become the supreme vampire overlord.
I won't even begin to attempt to decipher the story any more than that. The plot is rendered virtually incomprehensible due to ... incomprehensible really isn't the correct word. I had a general idea what was going on, but the sheer number of characters, many of whom struck me as completely extraneous, and the baffling way in which the tale is constructed... Okay, maybe incomprehensible is the right word after all. At the very least it's a jumbled plot that's needlessly confusing at times.
I have to give props to the people behind Shira the Vampire Samurai just for the sheer ambition to make such a fight-a-riffic female Blade knock-off on what is clearly a low budget. The stunt work and fight choreography - often clunky and appearing overtly rehearsed - is still head and shoulders above what I'm used to seeing in such low budget movies of this variety. You certainly cannot complain about the film not having enough action because, aside from one stretch during the midsection, the film can't seem to go five minutes without erupting into a kung fu battle or a sword fight. And they're not short fights either. Most last several minutes at time; many involve multiple characters battling one another. Compared to last year's similar yet infinitely worse Vampire Assassin, Shira the Vampire Samurai is quite inspired. It’s a shame it couldn’t maintain that inspiration throughout.
Unfortunately, there's nothing behind these fight scenes except pure spectacle, and the fights eventually become repetitive to a fault; every fight scene ends up looking like the last one. It really does begin feeling like the same fight scenes are playing out over and over. I'd say the story comes to a stop every time one of these random fight scenes breaks out, but that would imply the story actually seemed to be going somewhere. Why should I care if this person lives or dies when I'm not even 100% sure of why they exist? By the time it got to the umpteenth extended battle sequence, I was just worn out. I remember looking at the DVD timer about 40 minutes in and just feeling numb. There's even a Shira training montage that just goes on and on and on.
Another big problem is Shira herself. Shira has three personality modes: unhappy warrior, everyday surly, and in bed with her lover moping about how their relationship is doomed because she's a vampire and he's a mortal. Blade was surly and not overtly friendly yet still had charisma that made you root for him in battle. Shira isn't especially likable and doesn't give you much of a reason to root for her. At least Buffy and Blade appeared to have their hearts in winning the battle, sometimes even looking like they were having some fun slaying vamps. Even in battle Shira seems a bit bored and displays more of a "woe is me" demeanor. She's like Louis from Interview with a Vampire dressed like Trinity from The Matrix pretending to be a female Blade.
Chona Jason (IMDB lists her biggest prior credits as episodes of Cinemax's Erotic Confessions from a decade ago), who also co-produced the film, doesn't come off very well as Shira because of her character's perpetually dour personality, and quite frankly, there's just nothing all that impressive about Shira as an action heroine. This is due in part to the sheer number of side characters aiding her in her quest - at least half a dozen allies - that suck up screen time better devoted to establishing Shira. Do you remember how a lot of people, including me, complained about how there was too much focus on the Nightstalkers in Blade: Trinity and that it took away from Blade himself? It's even worse here because this movie is supposed to be about introducing us to this character.
Amongst the worst of the extraneous side characters is a wisecracking Black guy who delivers some of the most seriously groan-inducing lines I've ever heard come out of the mouth of a wisecracking Black sidekick. I know it's not exactly the actor's fault since he didn't write these monumentally bad wisecracks, but he couldn't die fast enough for my tastes.
I'm also not entirely sure what Shira's boyfriend sees in her since she's such a wet blanket. He also seems to be allergic to wearing shirts.
The real diamond in the rough found here is Shira's samurai master, a walking, talking samurai movie cliché played so broadly to the point of being a riot to listen to. I wish he'd been the star of the film instead.
Remember Adrian Zmed, the blow-dried pretty boy that played Tom Hanks' sidekick in Bachelor Party, William Shatner's sidekick on "TJ Hooker," and was host of TV's "Dance Fever"? No? Then shame on you. Here he sports a goatee and hams it up considerably with a fake European accent as the evil Kristof. The sight of him at one point with a mouth full of fangs wearing full samurai armor was quite the spectacle. He even gets a great cheeseball death scene at film's end although that's really due to the not-so-special effects.
That finale, by the way, involves what I can only describe as "matrix ninjas" - ninjas whose attire looks like traditional ninja outfits made from Matrix-wear material complete with long black coats. This finale momentarily redeems the movie although the Enter the Dragon homage that comprises Shira's climactic showdown with Kristof was a victim of this viewer just not having a reason to care.
The acting mostly ranges from laughably bad to just not good, the excessive number of supporting characters, the repetitive fight scenes that ultimately become tiresome, the needlessly muddled story - Shira the Vampire Samurai is almost like what I'd expect if Andy Sidaris produced a Blade knock-off but with fewer naked women, more buff guys, no gunplay, and a score that sounds like it came from a Mortal Kombat tribute album. By no means is this a good movie, but that isn't to say it's not without some entertainment value. It's just that the majority of its entertainment value comes from its schlocky nature, and that sense of B-movie fun is constantly being undercut by repetitious action scenes, a wet drip of a title character, and a nothing story.
2 out of 5
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