review by Seraph
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Few directors can claim to have gained wordlwide recognition for their first
film. Even fewer can claim that their first film was a Yakuza-Zombie-Kung
fu-Period-Modern day-gore fest which takes place over a period of hundreds of
years. Ryuhei Kitamura can. He can also stand proud that the movie in question,
Versus, cost just $8000. Yes you read that right. Eight thousand dollars.
Winning praise from festivals all over the world Versus was a rare thing indeed.
A hybrid of zombie film (Evil Dead) and Yakuza flick (think Takashi Miike)
Versus also included Hong kong inspired action sequences that managed to impress
despite the films uber-low budget. Three years on and Kitamura is now well known
around the world for newer works such as 2003's Azumi and possibly the last ever
Godzilla film: Final Wars. Perhaps it was this rise in profile that persuaded
him to go back and reshoot some of the scenes he was unhappy with when he made
Ultimate Versus contains
completely new opening and closing fight sequences as
well as other re-filmed, re-edited scenes. In fact rumor has it that the new
sequences alone cost more than the original film did. The film was near perfect
in the first place so was this a wise decision? In some ways the new scenes are
very cool. More two-gun action, better camera-work and some seriously cool
finishing moves taken straight out of Mortal Kombat. The problem is you can spot
these new scenes a mile off. They all look like they're from a high budget
action film and every time a new one comes along it takes you right out of the
film. Versus does still stand up as an excellent example of a Japanese action
film and of a young talented director proving to world he has skills.
For those new to the film,
Versus is the story of a group of very 'interesting'
characters who for one reason or another end up in the forest of resurrection
which has the uncanny ability to, you guessed it: resurrect the dead. What's
worse is that this very same forest is used by Yakuza to dump the dead bodies of
their enemies. This means a whole lot of Zombies running around with two guns.
An escaped prisoner, Tak, meets up with a gang who have been paid to help him
escape but before they know it they are surrounded by zombies. Also riding with
the gang is a kidnapped woman (Cheiko Misaka) with whom Tak makes his escape
from the group of Yakuza. As these two seperate parties battle for their lives
against the army of undead, another man enters the forest and has seemingly
supernatural powers. Confused? Don't worry. The movie has so many colourful
characters coming and going you'd be forgiven for not keeping up. But those of
you who have seen Kitamuras other work 'Azumi' will know that asides from the
great action scenes, weird and wonderful characters are what Kitamura does best.
Each actor rises to the challenge admirably and considering the films low budget
(they certainly could not have been paid very much) they all give great
performances. Special mention must go to bad guy Hideo Sakaki who gives a
menacing performance both in action and dialogue.
The movie escalates to a
battle between escaped prisoner Tak and enigmatic
villian Hideo. Hence the title 'Versus'. The resulting fight is/was a marvel to
watch in both incarnations: Versus/Ultimate Versus. The movie may not have much
of a plot. In fact you can sum it up with: Fight, zombies, gore, a bit of
comedy, more zombies, bigger fight etc... but it is the energy with which it is
all filmed that will have you hooked. The pace rarely lets up, the comedy is
actually quite funny and the performances are admirably over the top. The
Ultimate version of the film is only let down by the fact that the new sequences
are all too obvious and often destroy the previous experience of the movie being
so cheap but so much fun. Also, there is nothing added to the story in this new
version, just another bunch of crazy fight sequences which the movie had enough
of in the first place.
All in all though, I advise
you to seek out versus in any incarnation you can.
Zombies and Kung fu have rarely been so much fun
I rate it 8/10
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Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Starring Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka, Tak Sakaguchi.
Reviewed by Paul (Seraph), April 2005