Versus (2000)

versus

“I didn’t mean to save you. They just pissed me off.”

The Scoop: 2000 R, directed by Ryuhei Kitamura and starring Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, and Chieko Misaka

Tagline: Beware the past, fight the present, fear the future

Summary Capsule: Insane mixture of crazy martial arts, wild gunplay, gaping wounds and gaping plotholes in a forest full of zombies.

Rich’s rating: Whuh?

Rich’s review: I have no idea how to write this review. Three times now I’ve got a few paragraphs in before the insanely complex/weird/indecipherable mess that it Versus has caused me to throw up my hands in despair, delete everything I have written, and start again. But however strong its kung fu is, mine is stronger; so, after a quick bow, its back to the fray.

Let’s hit the important points about Versus straight away, so you can understand why I’m struggling so much to get this down on paper. Point 1, and it’s an important point, is that Versus is a Japanese action film with subtitles. Now, I like Japanese cinema. I don’t mind subtitles at all; but I’m sure everyone will agree with me that badly translated subtitles can lead to intense head-scratchery. Point 2 is — IT’S JAPANESE. That means that it’s completely and utterly insane; absolutely nothing in this film makes any kind of sense at all, the characters motives change in a heartbeat and for no readily apparent reason, and new characters appear at random intervals with no backstory whatsoever. Point 3, which is a minor point by comparison to the first two, is that at no point in the film do any of the characters get names. Add this to point 2 above about random characters just showing up for no reason, and you’ve got a recipe for a big slice of confusion pie, with extra ‘Whu?’ on the side.

The plot, such as it is, seems to be: Escaped convicts meet Yakuza contacts who also have kidnapped girl with them, escaped convict has attack of morality, gunfire ensues, girl is rescued, and the remaining Yakuza chase the convict and the girl into the forest. The interesting side note to this plot (apart from the fact that it only remains that simple for around 9 minutes of the film) is that the forest in which the chasing, shooting, and martial arts is taking place also brings people back from the dead. So the plot in short is: Yakuza chase convict and girl through forest of zombies.

I’m not going to go into the plot any more than that in this review — but what I will say is that if you’re a ‘needless plot complication’ connoisseur, then this is the film for you. By around 30 minutes in, you’ll be scratching your head and wondering what the hell’s going on.

As you might expect from a Japanese action/horror film, there are 3 things grossly prevalent in this picture: Gunplay, Martial Arts, and Gore. More people get mangled in more excessive ways in Versus than has ever even been conceived outside a Japanese film; and there are a number of important object lessons to be learned by them, such as the dangers of punching through someone’s head with your fist (their eyeballs get stuck to your hands, and it gets messy).

Everything about this film is geared to ‘cool’. An abundance of black leather trenchcoats, multiple pistols, and black sunglasses adorns the cast, and I’m fairly sure that some of the pithy one liners would be much better had the subtitling been of a little higher quality; sure you can still understand the basic gist of what’s being said, but the devil is in the details, as they say.

The fight scenes are predictably well choreographed, and the confrontations with the zombie hordes are great fun, but plot, which should be the glue holding the fight scenes together, is so utterly stupid I’m fairly sure the scriptwriters were making it up as they went along: “Hey, we need another fight here — let’s make him your long lost twin brother after vengeance… no, we’ll not bother explaining that… yeah, you can film the fight now”.

That’s not to say that Versus isn’t worth seeing. It’s just not worth taking seriously. Get a few friends together who are in the mood for crazy Japanese action zombie splatterfest, slip your brains into neutral, and sit around enjoying the mindless violence and unintentional comedy of one of the weirdest zombie films since Brain Dead.

Justin’s rating: Oh you go, you crazy crying girl with magical tears!

Justin’s review: There’s pretty much two things I took away from the “movie” Versus, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to share them with you.

The first is that this happens to be one of those movies that makes, more or less, no  sense whatsoever. It could well be due to its connection with Japanese cinema, which is only second to their nation’s obsession with Twee Pop Culture in terms of inexplicability. If a Japanese film puts forth a coherent thought or a logical plot point, that’s a mistake on their editor’s behalf.

What doesn’t make sense about Versus? Guh… what about everything? I couldn’t even give you the rundown of the plot if I really tried, since the film appears to jump completely from one plot to a whole different screenplay whenever it felt like it. It has something to do with an escaped prisoner who doesn’t know much, a girl with magical, life-saving blood, a samurai-invincible-dude from the past, a forest full of zombies, some contract killers, and some goofy government agents bumbling around. I kept up with it well enough until about midway, when the questionable “flashbacks” started happening and new — possibly MAIN — characters were introduced right and left.

If there’s any hope to understanding Versus, it’s going to be a collaborative effort with the entire Mutant staff, locked in a board room, pouring over flow charts and fuzzy photographs. And considering that Clare’s been hiding in a pillow fort for a record 15 days now, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Other than reducing me to a childish state of passive whimpering, the other gift Versus bestowed on me was the gift of time. For an action film loaded with guns, swords and zombies, there was plenty of non-action going on. This is a sign of an independent or first-time filmmaker: they have to try so hard, within a limited budget, to make things look cool… and when they achieve that, they want to stretch it out as long as possible to make very sure that the audience notices. Thus, in Versus, a typical battle scene begins like so:

  • 1. Good guy and bad guys stumble upon each other. There’s some frantic action as everyone dives for their respective weapon, shouting and growling at the same time. It looks promising.
  • 2. Don’t get your hopes up.
  • 3. Everyone points whatever they’re holding at each other, in an endless stream of “Mexican Standoffs” made popular by Quentin Tarantino and his ancestors. Every. Single. Battle. begins like this. Even the guys who just have a sword points the sharp end at the guy with the long-ranged automatic rifle 25 feet away, as if the mere presence of the sword’s pointy bit is sufficient deterrent.
  • 4. Nobody does anything for a good long while.
  • 5. Holding their COOL weapons in COOL poses, the characters start talking to each other, perhaps wanting to reason things out, but more likely just comparing penis sizes and boasting about their ability to chuck a football 75 yards.
  • 6. Someone starts to do something, everyone reacts, then they freeze once more.
  • 7. This is high-falootin’ ridiculous.

Eventually the battles happen, and they’re not half bad, but I got to the point where I was fast-forwarding through these Pose ‘n Pause scenes that happened constantly. If you took those out, the movie would have lost 15 minutes of its running time. Seriously.

Anyway, I’m firmly on the fence here. Versus can be really cool or incredibly trying, based on your mood and level of geekitude, and I’m not about to take a gamble with such a chancy title, unless the Zombie Samurai make the play-offs.

Shalen’s rating: Six out of seven uses for a zombie head.

Shalen’s review: My youngest sibling (hereinafter “Sibling 2”) has been urging me to review this film on the site for some time. “The other ones sucked,” she informs me every time the subject comes up. “They didn’t get it at all.”1 Now, Sibling 2 is the one with the fashion sense, and I need her to go shopping with me if I don’t want to go to work looking like a homeless person, so I try to comply with her wishes whenever possible. Besides, Sibs 1 and 2 and I enjoyed this movie so much that I hate to see it pass without some positive remarks.

The plot isn’t that obscure, provided you’re willing to watch the film two or three times in a row. (We did.) It’s just your basic story of opposing forces trying to trigger or prevent the opening of what is essentially a Hellgate, with a third party as a not-quite-helpless pawn necessary for the satisfaction of either goal. In this case the two opposing parties are The Man and the Prisoner, both attractive and well-groomed guys in spiffy outfits.2 The increase in supernatural activity of course results in some supernatural creatures wandering about, in this case meaning zombies. There are guys in trench coats and a pretty girl. It’s sort of like Buffy, but everyone is Japanese and has far better fighting skills.

So where do the zombies come from, you ask? It seems that some gangsters have been using the forest where this all takes place as a body dump. It also means some of the zombies have guns, which work very well for having been buried under the ground for a while. Oh, and the gangsters have plans to sell The Girl (nobody here has names) to The Man so he can use her Blood of Resurrection to open the Hellgate Equivalent and give himself ultimate power.3 The Prisoner is of course opposed to this, because he knows he is better looking than The Man and therefore destined to be our protagonist. I highly recommend you watch this with the subtitles on, because The Prisoner’s mumbly voice fits him much better than the silly “big-jawed white fellow” Dudley-Doright type voice they gave him in the dubbing.4 He is not a high-energy kind of guy.

One of the more fun elements to the Siblings and I was — spoiler here — there’s a cycle to all of this. It’s all been going on since the beginning of time, though the end of the film reveals it may not be quite as we think it is at first. The Girl has always been pulled back and forth between these two, trying to make it come out right, and she’s never quite succeeded completely. One of the film’s subtler touches is the fact that the Girl wears white, and both men wear black, suggesting the protag/antag relationships are also not exactly what they first appear.

There’s lots of action, considerable style, and not a great deal of depth to this film, but it’s at least as worthy of a look-see as Underworld or Ultraviolet or Aeon Flux or any such style-over-substance flick. For that matter, I found it more interesting than either of those, and yards beyond Returner – at least The Girl doesn’t stop in the middle of her crisis situation to go shopping for impractical clothing. (Though she does have the magical power to keep her white tunic white despite being repeatedly thrown to the ground.)

This film, like so many others with cult potential, is best watched in a group. I’d offer to lend you Siblings 1 and 2, but we’ll be busy watching X3.

1. Direct quote, and the opinions quoted in this review are not held or endorsed by Shalen. And Sibling 2 is a lot meaner than Shalen, so Shalen is afraid to misquote her.
2. We wish our hair was as pretty while short as The Prisoner’s is while long. He also has better cheekbones than The Girl.
3. And I love my fellow Mutants, and I would never, ever say their reviews sucked just because they failed to notice the difference between “tears” and “blood” even though the phrase “Blood of Resurrection” is used numerous times throughout the film.
4. And unless memory deceives me, the words “jailbreak” on the prisoners’ uniforms are in Japanese in the subtitled version, suggesting this is a poor translation rather than a directorial non sequiter.

Aw… he has his father’s eyes!

Intermission!

  • Not your random shambling zombies these…they leap! They know kung fu! And they fire guns!
  • The brilliance of where the hero gets his attire from never ceases to amaze me.
  • The hero’s brilliant method of dealing with the ‘safety’ of his female companion whenever there’s going to be a fight of some kind.
  • The epilogue which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever?!
  • I like crazy criminal guy, he’s got the bestest of faces!
  • Tak’s eyebrow waggle when he downs his first zombie
  • The escaped convicts are wearing jumpsuits that say “JAILBREAK” on them. Convenient. Too convenient. And also, whaaaa?

Groovy Quotes

[After kicking away a severed zombie head.]
Prisoner KSC2-303: I’ll play with you later.

[Shooting someone in the gut]
Head Yakuza: Die slowly, okay? We don’t want you coming back alive on us.

Fighter: You can’t hit me! I have five hundred times faster reflexes then Mike Tyson!

[Note: As none of the characters in the film come with names, the names below are the names given to them by me and my housemate. That is all.]
[After Our Stoic Hero tells the Yakuza to let their captive girl go]
Mr. Overacty-Face Yakuza: What do you care?
Our Stoic Hero: I’m a feminist.

Comedy Runt Yakuza: They come back!
Mr. Overacty-Face Yakuza: Good. That means I can kill him twice.

Heroine in Peril: Why were you in prison?
Our Stoic Hero: I was…er…
Heroine in Peril: You don’t remember either?
Our Stoic Hero: I forget things easily.

Main guy: I didn’t mean to save you. They just pissed me off.

If you liked this movie, try these:

4 comments

  1. yeah, this is very much the Japanese take on Evil Dead. Kitamura likes to mash up foreign influences into his films. For an even more frenetic example, watch Godzilla: Final Wars.

    If you want something a bit easier to follow and much better, Azumi is good.

    • You know, I’ve owned Azumi for about three years now and it’s still in the plastic wrap. I picked it up on a whim and actually have no idea what it’s about. I just assumed it would be something I’d like. Maybe someday soon I’ll finally sit down and check it out.

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