Versus (2000) Review

"Versus" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Versus" Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Writer: Ryuhei Kitamura, Yudai Yamaguchi
Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Kenji Matsuda, Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka, Yuichiro Arai, Minoru Matsumoto
Running Time: 120 min.

By Numskull

Hot damn! Evil Dead and Bad Taste meet in-your-face combat like only those bloodthirsty Asian film makers can do it, God bless ’em, with ample doses of anime and Matrix-style visuals thrown in to let the viewer know, without just coming out and saying it, that this movie is strictly for members of some ill-defined cinematic “in crowd” with enlistment criteria based solely on attitude; all others fuck off.

The plot is so secondary to the action that it’s scarcely worth mentioning, but it has to do with a really annoying girl (when she TALKS, anyway…just standing there, she’s quite likable) with mystical powers who reincarnates every 500 years, this evil undead wizard type guy who wants to exploit those powers, a forest where the dead come back to life, and a prison escapee who runs around kicking everybody’s ass partly because he has to but mostly just because he can. There are two homicidal prison officials, one of whom has recently (as in, VERY recently) lost a hand, tracking him down, and a gang of villains including a vaguely faggoty guy in a necktie who flicks his tongue a lot. These characters don’t have names, so that’s how you’re going to mentally refer to them; “Stumpy”, “Necktie”, etc.

The movie is really little more than a protracted chase and series of battles (with knives, with guns, with swords, and with good old fashioned fists) inside this haunted forest. There’s plenty of visual humor which viewers who are really “into it” will appreciate but which bored girlfriends of gore-hungry guys will probably miss. Nothing as obvious as a pie in the face, but the camera angles and facial expressions frequently make it quite clear that everyone involved in this movie had the time of their lives making it. When our boy swipes the long black leather coat off a dead man’s body and an electric guitar riff pops up out of nowhere, it’s like the movie is saying: “I fucking dare you to say this isn’t cool.” When our boy twirls his sword around and says “Don’t touch my girl, fuckin’ asshole!”, it’s like the movie is saying: “I fucking DOUBLE dare you to say this isn’t cool.” When our boy spits out a wad of his own blood for what seems like the hundredth time, it’s like the movie is saying: “Yeah, okay, that’s getting kind of old, but still, I fucking TRIPLE dare you to say this isn’t cool!”

The point of Versus is not to follow it but simply to WATCH it; there’s a difference. Cast aside your day-to-day troubles for two hours and revel in the carnage.

Numskull’s Rating: 8/10

By Joe909

Finally, I have seen a movie that ranks up there with “Chinese Super Ninjas.” Like that Shaw Brothers classic, Versus has everything: gun-blazing, John Woo action, samurai battles, gravity-defying kung-fu, savage and bloody action, and, instead of ninjas, zombies. And not just your everyday, garden variety zombies: the ones here know how to use the guns they were buried with (which, for some reason, are still operable).

There’s no plot in Versus. But it’s possible you might not even notice. You’ll be too busy keeping up with the action. The story is as basic as you can get: a prisoner (who is known to us only by his number: KSC2-303) is broken out of prison and brought to a remote forest, where he meets up with some yakuza thugs. These thugs proceed to inform him that they’ve been hired to break him out of prison. The yakuza also have a captive young woman, whom the male prisoner demands they release. The yakuza refuse, and so our “hero” blasts the shit out of them. Strangely, the thugs killed in this firefight come back to life. KSC2-303 and the yakuza shoot apart these zombies, and then KC takes the girl and they rush off into the forest. The yakuza follow after, and soon enough more zombies start popping out of the ground. Lots of bloody shenanigans transpire, and then the head yakuza honcho shows up: an immortal, evil wizard who needs both KC and the young woman together to carry out his schemes for world domination. Sounds stupid, but it actually works on screen.

If you see this movie, expect: lots of hard-hitting, “Matrix”-like kung-fu, ferocious gunplay, and campy gore. A lot of dark humor, too. For example, one character, a crazy policeman who’s chasing the main hero, spends the entire movie bemoaning the loss of his right hand. At one point he comes across the person who cut his hand off. “Hey,” he yells, “I want back my hand!” The person who cut the hand off, who is KSC2-303, of course, bends down and picks up a severed hand from the pile of carnage about him. He tosses it to the crazy cop. The cop tries to stick it on his stunted arm, but realizes, “Hey, this is a left hand! I need a right hand!”

Versus, a two hour-long action movie with little plot, is in need of a little editing. Word is it’s been picked up for US distribution, and edits are supposedly going to be made. I think this is a good idea, as the movie could stand to be tighter. It’s very possible that some movie-goers will get sick of the relentless action. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t like a Bruce Le movie: all fights and no story. But still, action takes precedent over plot in this film. But at least it’s great action. And at least every single one of the characters, none of whom have names mind you, are memorable and entertaining.

As of this writing (January 4, 2002), Versus is nearly impossible to find. It was produced in Japan last year, and shown in only a few international festivals. I don’t believe it was even given a wide release in Japan. So far, it hasn’t officially been released in any format. However, a DVD came out several months ago, but this dvd was in fact a bootleg. Same goes for all of the vcds you’ll come across. But no matter, get the movie in any format you can.

I’ll finish this up by saying I’ve never seen a Japanese movie I liked, and I’ve seen a lot of them. I went to school in Tokyo for a while, had a lot of Japanese friends, and rented a lot of Japanese movies. And they were all the same to me: static, plodding, and boring. Japanese movies were like the pretentious, pansy cousins of Hong Kong cinema. But now, finally, Versus ups the bar: it’s got more action than any HK movie I’ve seen in years. The actors are cool and hip without trying to be. The dialog is memorable and the film as a whole doesn’t pander. The music is straight-up rock meets techno, no Cantopop shit. It’s the most enjoyable movie I’ve seen in a long time.

Joe909’s Rating: 10/10

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