Interview: Producer Bill Kong on Latest Film ‘Blood: The Last Vampire’

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CHICAGO – Bill Kong can rightly be considered the producer King of the Modern Samarai Film. After cutting his teeth on the seminal “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” his latest release is a new spin on the genre with “Blood, The Last Vampire.” Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

Saya (Gianna Jun) is a mysterious vampire slayer in 1970 Japan who works as part of a covert government agency that hunts and kills the bloodsucking demons. Her samarai and fighting skills were carefully taught, and she has a secret that motivates her insatiable drive to pursue and destroy the concealed monsters.

Enter Alice Mckee (Allison Miller), the daughter of a general who is directing bombing missions in Vietnam out of a Toyko air base. She encounters Saya when the warrior goes undercover in her high school. After Alice witnesses Saya’s slaughter of two demons who were in the school, she joins forces with the slayer to go after the ultimate vampire, Onigen.

Gianna Jun and Yasuaki Kurata in ‘Blood: The Last Vampire’
Gianna Jun and Yasuaki Kurata in ‘Blood: The Last Vampire’
Photo credit: © 2009 Samuel Goldwyn Films caught up with Bill Kong to talk about The Last Vampire and other films in his illustrious career, including his use of a European director for The Last Vampire and his direct influences. Given your background in heroic Samarai style films, what do you think the audience connects with most in these types of narratives?

Bill Kong: I would hope that the audience identifies with Saya, the main character of the film. That character is what film attracted me to the film, when I saw the anime this is based on in 2002. I hope the character will touch people, and they relate to her.

HC: In ‘Blood: The Last Vampire’, we see yet another hero that is a woman. What statement about a woman’s role in society is being made with this film and the others that you have done that feature warrior women?

BK: I think what I’m trying to say is there is a lot of attractive Asian women (laughs). I really want to make action heroes out of women because there are really too many male action heroes in the west. Promoting female heroes is perhaps our answer to the movie world (laughs).

It really it is only a coincidence. The material that I have run into and chosen just happens to have female leads as the main hero.

HC: Vampires are the ‘Monster of the Day’ in the last year or so. Why do you think this legend has re-emerged at this point in our cultural history?

BK: I think the vampire is always in fashion, even if audiences get bored of them, they always seem to come back. It’s a never-ending and ever-attraction subject matter, especially to young audiences.

HC: The Last Vampire is set in 1970 and alludes to the United States involvement in Vietnam. Was this a political statement about the evil of this particular war or was it just a convenient background based on the anime?

BK: It is the setting in the original anime, but certainly the war had a lot of impact in Asia. The Air Force base where The Last Vampire is set flew B-52 missions to Vietnam virtually every night for a period, with hundreds of tons of bombs in their payloads. That era had a lot of impact throughout Asia.

HC: The director of The Last Vampire, Chris Nahon, is French. What cultural or background qualifications has he brought into the interpretation of Samarai movies, given that he is not part of the roots of the Samarai?

BK: This is a co-production between Asian film interests and Pathé France. Chris is a renown commercial director in France and Europe. He also did a fantastic movie called ‘Kiss of the Dragon’, with Jet Li and the same choreographer we have in The Last Vampire. The whole look of the film is Chris’s work and he also brought in a Hong Kong fight choreographer who did one of the ‘Lethal Weapon’ movies

It is a good mix with a European commercial director paired with Chinese fight choreographers.

HC: The main character in The Last Vampire fights both the demons of evil and her desire to defeat them. How do you think an average person can relate to the struggle within themselves of their good and evil sides?

BK: I will leave it to the audience to decide. The film is not serious but it does have a lot of metaphor and I hope people relate to it in a positive way.

HC: The filmmakers and Chris Nahon use the spilling of blood in The Last Vampire as almost a ballet-like spray of mad choreography. Given the connection between blood and blood suckers, was this almost intended to mock the main premise of the title and the story or was it something more?

Producer Bill Kong at the South Korean Premiere of ‘Blood: The Last Vampire’
Producer Bill Kong at the South Korean Premiere of ‘Blood: The Last Vampire’
Photo credit: © 2009 Samuel Goldwyn Films

BK: We did talk about that before we started the film, and how it relates to the title. But I will remind you that this is an adaptation of an earlier work and we were faithful to that earlier anime. The original anime was full of metaphor in its design, so we tried our best to be faithful to that source.

HC: What do asian audiences look for in samarai films that western or U.S. audiences will never understand?

BK: I think the action is a common action and thus a common language. The Samarai action is distinguished by its use of a sword in fights, which is somewhat unfamiliar to western audiences. Also in Samarai and Chinese action films, we do a lot of choreography. Our ambition, in communication this choreography to western audiences, is the hope that they understand the logic, beauty and poetry of this type of action.

Western action tends to be faster and sometimes illogical. We try to add much more to a confrontation scene than just a simple fight.

HC: Magical realism is a well-known theme in your Samarai productions - such as floating through the air during a fight. What is it about the intensity of purpose within a Samarai ‘code’ that allows for this magic to happen?

BK: (Laughs) There is no ‘code’, it’s all in the story and the story treatment by the director. An action movie serves the drama and the character. At a certain point in the drama, when we choose to suspend belief and take them into a different world, like “Star Wars,” we do that. There is no code at all.

HC: You have worked with the great Ang Lee twice now. What did he bring to ‘Lust, Caution’ that you didn’t see when he was doing ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’?

BK: Ang is such a fantastic filmmaker, he never fails to surprise people. The final cut of ‘Lust, Caution’ was a total shock to me, different from the original script.

Even Crouching Tiger was based on a novel, and it was Ang Lee who brought life to the characters and brought his mark to both the story and the martial arts. With Crouching Tiger he was able to introduce to the world what martial arts is. A real achievement.

He is a filmmaker that can add a lot of things to simple material.

HC: Finally, what kind of narrative bridge did the great filmmaker Akira Kurosawa provide for you and your filmmakers between early Samarai films and the type of style that you do today?

BK: We do copy Kurosawa, and I use the word ‘copy’ because he is our textbook. He has influenced every Asian filmmaker. Even today, many films owe their look and feel to Akira Kurosawa.

’Blood: The Last Vampire’ has a limited release July 10, 2009 (the Landmark Century Cinema in Chicago), and features Gianna Jun, Allison Miller, Koyuki and Yasuaki Kurata, directed by Chris Nahon. staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2009 Patrick McDonald,

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