REVIEW: DVD Release: Versus

Film: Versus
Release date: 30th June 2003
Certificate: 18
Running time: 120 mins
Director: Ryûhei Kitamura
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka, Kenji Matsuda, Yuichiro Arai
Genre: Action/Comedy/Fantasy/Horror
Studio: Tartan
Format: DVD
Country: USA/Japan

Versus was the film that made the world sit up and take a serious look at Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura. Now over ten years later, having had several re-releases with extra footage and even a US remake supposedly due for a 2010 release, is Versus still the internationally acclaimed gem that it would appear to be?

 The opening scrawl explains that there are 666 portals on earth leading to the afterlife, one of which is found in Japan, and is called the ‘forest of resurrection’. The film then jumps to the present day, where Prisoner KSC2–303 and a fellow prisoner meet with a gang of Yakuza mobsters in the forest, after escaping police custody.

Following a disagreement, KSC2-303 flees the Yakuza with a mysterious woman that the mobsters had kidnapped. The gangsters run deep into the forest after the two of them but discover that the dead bodies of people they have killed and buried in the forest are coming back to life as zombies. The gang then furiously fight off the zombified hordes approaching them; losing most of their numbers in the onslaught.

KSC2-303 meanwhile has started to forget details of his life, and begins to experience flashbacks of events he hasn’t knowingly experienced. Matters become clear as he meets face to face with a mysterious man. This man turns out to be an arch rival of KSC2-303 from a past reincarnation, and seeks to use the woman to open the gates of hell and acquire a great power.

Now knowing that his destiny is to stop his nemesis, KSC2-303 vows to protect the girl and settle the age old rivalry once and for all…

Whilst Versus is primarily an action horror flick, there are also occasional comedic turns. These are relatively outrageous and self-conscious scenes that juxtapose the heavy premise and the gory aesthetic. Moreover, these don’t necessarily undermine the flow of the film. Much of the comedy is self-referential and parodying of generic elements in Far Eastern action films.

The gore used by Kitamura for many of the action and zombie scenes go to show he is a man who doesn’t wish to hold back on visceral horror and instead gives the audience the blunt imagery. As a result, there are people having huge holes blown through their body, bits of limbs being cut up, and guts flying ad nausea. Indeed, it is true to say that those who do not like blood will be looking through their fingers for much of the film. It is splatter core at its most visual.

What is probably the most enjoyable factor about Versus is that the plot is simple, but without lacking any narrative depth. The story of resurrection, reincarnation, sibling rivalry and love across spiritual worlds manages to squeeze its way in amongst the gun and swordplay, and this somehow feels right. Not many films manage to strike this balance successfully, however for Versus it just about works. This is also despite the movie being quite minimalist when it comes to dialogue, as, in most cases, actions speak louder than words. Occasionally this makes some scenes more interesting and poignant - this is beautifully displayed during a particular flashback sequence where emotion is created simply by facial expressions.

If there is one thing that comes across most with Versus, it is the overt stylistic comparison with the Matrix. This is probably no accident as the Matrix smashed box office records the year before Versus was released, and that in itself borrowed stylistic elements very heavily from Far Eastern cinema. However, in this case, the Matrix style effects are somewhat sent up. In one particular case, a man attempting to dodge a bullet in the style of Neo fails spectacularly and is blown to smithereens. It is also worth noting how many times KSC2-303 is referred to as ‘the one’ and, most notably, how he wears a very similar jacket to Neo’s.

Despite the fact that he is clearly modelled on Neo, Tak Sakaguichi manages to put in a fine performance as KSC2-303; portraying a character that is not as clear cut a hero as it would seem. Sakaguichi succeeds, despite the character being somewhat of an undesirable, in making the audience root for him and gives KSC2-303 an ice cool edge, as well as a fiery ruthlessness.

Versus is a film with many hidden depths, and is not simply the big loud action film it would appear to be on the surface. The somewhat deep story of rivalry and conflict crossing over many reincarnations successfully compliments the zombie splatter core, and makes for an engaging and entertaining two hours. Versus has ultimately stood the test of time, but it seems hard to imagine what could be improved upon should the US release actually happen. DJ

1 comment: