And the Story Goes...
Ok, this is kind of tough, so I'm just going to throw out the most basic premise that I can. There is a group of people who are apparently reincarnated over and over. I believe that this happens until they reach a point in time that they all come together so that they can enter the 444 portal to another dimension(?). In the process of working towards their goal, these people must fight zombies and each other in the 'forest of the dead.'
It's basically just a bunch of scenes that are slapped together in order to tie fight scenes together.
There are two versions of this film that are currently available: Versus, and Ultimate Versus. I'll be reviewing Ultimate Versus, and I think that the only real differences is an added fight or two, and the music is changed up. The DVD box also states that "some attitudes [are] replaced by cgi optimizer." I'm not completely sure what that means, but it probably has something to do with fake looking cgi blood being added. Whatever it means, it sure does sound "ultimate."
I'll begin by saying that the Japanese are a wacky bunch. With things such as hentai, those game shows where people are maimed, and square watermelons, I've reached a point where if I see something that is incredibly weird, I usually have no issues with assuming that the Japanese had something to do with its creation. That's why I was in no way surprised when Versus turned out to be a completely strange, yet entertaining, film.
The movie begins with a kinduh-helpful back story as to why this shiz is going down. After our brief introduction, it is not long before we are given our first glimpse of all of our characters in ancient times, and then present times (remember how they reincarnate?). The first aspect that stands out is writer/director Ryuhei Kitamura's attempt to try to make Versus stylish and fresh. The back of the DVD box even says that it's "super cool & no rules." In reality, the characters actually come off as more goofy and funny than cool. I'll go so far as to say that they look more like parodies of Japanese people playing non-Japanese people trying to be cool. They're supposed to be intimidating I suppose, but I ain't buying it. These foos would have a hard time punkin' a girl scout, let alone somebody that keeps it real.*
The situation isn't remedied by that fact that apparently Kitamura believes that fresh and super cool means that characters pose repeatedly throughout the movie. I love the Charlie's Angel style pose by the group of two girls and a guy who are known simply as the assassins. It lets us know not to take the experience too seriously. Funny? Yes. Fresh and Cool? Eh. In spite of all of this tom-foolery, I will admit that the director does manage to keep some energy circulating with the camera work, and this helps to offset the general corniness of the characters.
Oh, and I'm not using names because I want to. I'm not using names because nobody in seems to have a name in Versus. That may be why everybody is an exaggerated version of various stereotypes. We have a prisoner, a gangster, a biker, a guy that screams continuously, a girl (no certain type of girl....just a girl), a couple of cops, a group of assassins, and the main bad guy. Strangely enough, this is all we need to know about them. After all, most of their interactions with each other are nothing more than fighting.
So, I've ripped on the posing and general stupidness of the characters, but seeing as this is supposed to be an action/comedy/fantasy, I guess that this cheesiness was intentional. One of the best lines in the movie is by the armless cop as he proclaims that he has "500 times faster reflexes than Mike Tyson." That has to be a joke, right? And, who can forget about the Yakuza guy that turns into a bug type person that crawls around on trees? That's (Japanese) weird, and has to be intended for comedic relief. These are just a couple of laughs that get throughout, too.
Now, I know what you're thinking: "but Jack, aren't you going to discuss the fight scenes in your (Inimitable Movie) review©?" Of course I am!
The fight scenes are many, and pretty well put together. This is the area that Versus really shines. Throughout the film we get a healthy mix of hand to hand, sword and gun battles that are much better than what we got from many of the movies coming out of States during the same era. Ultimately, if you're in the mood for a bit of the old ultra-violence, then this might be the movie for you.
As a fair warning to those of you who like endings that make sense, you should know that the ending of Versus really doesn't make any sense...at all. It's worse than the ending to The Blair Witch Project. We have flip-flopping roles, shaved heads, futuristic settings, smoke, and laser guided swords (seriously). In fact, then only thing that we don't really get is a Japanese woman in a Catholic school girl outfit, which is something that I kept expecting throughout the entire film. Oh, those wily Japanese. Just when you think that you have them pegged, they throw you a curve ball!
Kitamura managed to put together a semi-coherent mess of a movie that ends up being pretty entertaining. If you're not able to completely suspend your disbelief for a while, then Versus may not be the right film for you. If, however, you don't care about gaping plot holes, adequate character development, or even an ending that makes any type of sense, then you should definitely check this one out. The spectacle of it all is worth it, son!
I'll rate in keeping with the tone of the movie: On a scale of 1 to Boobs, I give Versus an Orange. Give it a Watch!
*Attempt to reach a younger audience by making use of modern slang