Versus


Title: Versus
Rating: 4.5/5
Genre: Action, Horror, Comedy
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Starring: Taka Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Kenji Matsuda
Language: Japanese

“Take a healthy dose of the living dead, one forest, a gateway to another dimension, a boy, a girl, a bad guy, a dash of destiny, swordplay, gunplay, 17 gallons of fake blood, some horse steroids and then shake violently. The resulting assault on the senses would be a lot like Versus. If you happened to be on a rollercoaster.” – Mark Wyatt

Ex-cons, superpowered undead demons, martial arts masters, police with firepower, pissed off undead yakuza, swords, guns, decapitation, chest holes, heart-eating, blood soaking, finger licking ultra-violent carnage. There can be no real description for this film other than perhaps the single greatest extended battle to be put to film. To try to make sense of the plot is a futile notion; you are presented with a situation and told to accept it. Not even an inkling of an explanation for it, and whilst normally this would annoy me, here it serves a critical purpose. If they were to explain the rationale behind every absurd situation, it would detract from the time spent causing heads to roll (and then having them return as zombies, rinse and repeat). The plot is easy to follow and even though it doesn’t make a shred of sense, that doesn’t matter.

I could try to explain the story, but the truth is that any description that gets mentioned would sound utterly ridiculous (largely because it is utterly ridiculous), but the film makers never intended it to be anything different. With his influences worn on his sleeve, his willing to poke fun at his inspiration is why it works so well. Take equal parts of Braindead’s taste in humorous excessive violence, the Matrix’s stylised jacket and sunglasses as they shoot everything in sight and engage in hand-to-hand with blistering pace, and Pulp Fiction’s side tracking, stitching together the plot between action sequences with bizarre witty conversations and you get some idea of what to expect.

The acting is as energetic and frantic as the script desires of them, each of the main characters displaying rather apparently how seriously the story should be taken – which is to say, not really at all – and that comes through as the cast genuinely appear to have fun with the low-budget brilliance, bringing a unique quality to their character. Every member of the cast is given their moments, permitting their unique personality to emerge (and this isn’t a small cast), even if we aren’t weighed down
with such unnecessary information as their background or names. The sublimely performed lead role by Taka, often with a frequent expression of ‘and why should I care?’ as the damsel gives the abridged version of the necessary plot points, and a special mention to Kenji Matsuda’s performance the insane-suited-frog-zombie, cackling manically like some beast from ‘Evil Dead’ who had snorted a little bit too much coke.

This could almost be considered a ‘good vs evil’ battle – as may guess the name hints at – but its anything if your standard affair story; with the evil being all too patient and intelligent, the apathetic good who spends more time knocking unconscious the damsel in distress than he does saving her, and the convenient fact that they both seem to love a bit of murder and mayhem on the side. Every plot development seems to be an excuse to increase the level of chaos; the police officers whose only real apparent purpose to bring some really big guns into play, or the undead yakuza an excuse to display dismembered bleeding corpses firing revolvers at anyone in sight. The action is stylised and well choreographed, the soundtrack an energetic industrial rock, and whilst the lack of plot detail is something I almost always criticise in films, here I honestly couldn’t care. The blood keeps flowing and the action keeps going, and that’s fine by me.

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