= Highest Rating
more concisely, Japanese gangsters versus evil
dead kung fu zombies.
Director Ryuhei Kitamura obviously loves the
Anime of his native Japan,
Sam Raimi's Evil Dead
westerns, Hong Kong's ultra-violent crime films
and the kung fu/horror style of Blade.
If you too happen to like such fare then chances
are you'll enjoy this outrageously over-the-top
action/comedy/gorefest from the Land of the Rising
There is very little in the way of plot. In
fact, only one of the characters is even given
a name... I only know this because the text on
the back of the packaging says so. Prisoner KSC2-303
(Tak Sakaguchi) and another convict are on the
run after escaping from custody, making their
way to a rendezvous with some Yakuza thugs in
a dark, remote forest. KSC2-303 doesn't know the
young toughs who arrive at the meeting place;
they're associates of his fellow fugitive. The
gangsters have brought with them a young woman
(Chieko Misaka) whom they say they were ordered
to kidnap by "him" — their unnamed boss.
Per instructions, everyone is to remain at the
rendezvous point until "he" arrives.
KSC2-303 smells a rat. He also doesn't like the
way the gang members insult him. Tension quickly
mounts, then just as swiftly erupts into violence.
KSC2-303 disarms one
of the thugs and shoots the ringleader dead.
During the resulting John Woo-style 'Mexican Standoff'
the dead man's corpse gets up and attacks one
of the gangsters! Within moments of his demise
he has become one of the living dead. Everyone
opens fire on the zombie, who is remarkably hard
to put down. (Where do these guys store all that
ammo?) KSC2-303 and The Woman take off into the
forest during all the confusion, with the remaining
bad guys soon hot on their heels. Spooked by the
inexplicable reanimation of their dead comrade,
they want to kill the defiant Prisoner but their
orders are to keep him alive for the Boss. As
they pursue their quarry one of them remarks that
this mysterious forest —
known in legend as the "Forest of Resurrection"
— is the place they've
always dumped the bodies of their past victims.
They shortly discover that those shallow graves
are all empty...
is a whirlwind mélange of high-kicking kung fu
action and stylish posing, accentuated with buckets
of blood and not-always-successful slapstick humor.
In one way or another director Kitamura simultaneously
references and pokes fun at just about every gore
film cliché imaginable, shooting the film
in the kinetic MTV-inspired style of Blade
and The Matrix. (It's
aesthetically mandated that our hero, KSC2-303,
is able to change out of his prison jumpsuit into
the black leather duster and pants he takes from
a dead man.) So be prepared for butt-loads of
wire-fu, exploding squibs, jetting arteries and
exposed entrails. The vague story, which in the
end has a lot to do with reincarnation and "destiny",
is quite flimsy and only serves to set up the
aforementioned elements. Fine by me... The movie
really shines during the action/gore set pieces,
belying its minuscule budget. Interestingly enough,
the fight sequences (using every postmodern technique
now on display at your local Cineplex, especially
rapid-fire editing) are generally better handled
than in most multi-million dollar American productions.
The images may zip across the retina with a machinegun
staccato but we can actually see what's going
on, which makes a big difference. Ever notice
that in American flicks — let's use Daredevil
as the most recent example covered here at
EC — the wire-fu fights all seem to happen at
night, or in settings conveniently outfitted with
a bank of strobe lights? Not so in Versus.
All the action takes place during the daytime.
Except for a brief coda at the end the entire
film also takes place in a single outdoor location,
the Forest of Resurrection. While this obviously
helped keep production costs to a minimum, with
its static scenery Versus
is entirely too long for the story it's trying
to tell — it's two hours of gun battles, zombie
dismemberment and martial arts-samurai mayhem
in the woods. The 119-minute running time is about
20 more than we really need. Unfortunately the
'filler' comes in the form of two comic relief
cops who track KSC2-303 into the forest. One is
missing a hand (torn off in KSC2-303's escape)
and wants to get it back, the other is a braggart
who claims to be an expert in everything and anything.
Most of their jokes aren't funny and the amputee
cop strangely wanders around with his bloody,
unbandaged stump as if it's no big deal. (I think
the two policemen are supposed to be dead; they
just don't know it. This is never cleared up or
explained, though.) The humor focusing on the
other characters tends to work better, such as
a winking send-up on the old 'hero with cool sunglasses'
routine from Terminator
2 and Blade.
There are also a couple of good sight gags involving
Despite some serious flaws I had a good time
with Versus. Yes,
it's a dumb movie... but one very smartly and
One particular scene (Chapter 2 on the DVD, when
the fugitives first meet the gang) did get on my
nerves... Kitamura's prolonged use of a wobbly handheld
camera almost made me seasick!
In an unusual move Media Blasters have released
three distinct DVD editions of Versus:
an edited R-rated version which tones down the gore
(why bother then?), the Director's Cut (about
which this review is concerned), and a Special Edition.
(This Special Edition is the same as the Director's
Cut except it comes with a second disc containing
additional extras.) Visual quality is fairly high
for a film shot on such a meager budget; considering
the source I have no real quibbles worth mentioning
in this regard. (The print used is widescreen and
enhanced for 16x9 TVs.) A dubbed English audio track
is provided but viewers are strongly recommended
to make use of the Japanese-language 5.1 Surround
mix. Beyond simply sounding fuller and richer it
isn't hamstrung by the atrocious dubbing work as
the English one is. Easy-to-read subtitles kick
in automatically. For those turned off by having
to 'read' a movie, keep in mind that the film doesn't
have a whole lot of dialog anyway.
The single-disc Director's Cut comes with only
those bonus features found on the Special Edition's
Disc 1: trailers for Pistol
Opera, Samurai Fiction,
Kunoichi and Pyrokinesis
(no promo for Versus),
separate commentary tracks. The first of these features
director Kitamura and some of the cast members speaking
Japanese with English subtitles, holding a rather
animated, enthusiastic discussion. In comparison
the second commentary, which features Kitamura and
producer Keishiro Shin speaking in English, is a
stiff and awkward affair. Full of verbal stumbling
and long silent gaps, it's obvious (and quite understandable)
that the participants were uncomfortable trying
to converse in a foreign language. Best to stick
with Commentary # 1 and leave it at that. 8/18/03