Film & DVD Review
There are 666 portals to the other side, and somewhere in Japan lies the home of the 444th. It is here that Prisoner KSC2-303 escapes from his fellow inmates to rendezvous with a group of men who will lead him to safety.
After he realises that the price of his freedom is the death of a female hostage, he refuses to comply with his rescuers' plans and blood is spilled. But when, in the aptly named Forest of Resurrection, long dead Yakuza fighters come back to life to avenge their own deaths, a battle against these living dead assassins ensues. Soon his quest for freedom becomes a desperate fight to simply stay alive....
Versus is a film which I became aware of due to the level of hype that surrounded it on some forums that I use. It had been touted as "The film of the year" and the like, and quite a few other people seemed to agree. However, I don't really like to get caught up in hype for films as more often than not, the film is not going to live up to the expectations that you set. Even though I took a very long time to finally buy Versus, hoping that the hype in my head would have died down, I'm afraid to say it still did not live up to my expectations.
Plot wise, Versus is pretty simple. An escaped convict KSC2-303 gets on the wrong side of the Yakuza that helped him escape, and ends up on the run from them, with the Yakuza'a female hostage along side him. However, the forest in which they're running has been used as the burial ground by the Yakuza for people they've killed in the past. To make matters worse all the dead are coming back to live as zombies, and trying to kill whoever they can. The forest is aptly named the Forest of Resurrection, and it is the location of the 444th portal, one of the 666 portals to the other side. With the undead, the escaped convict and the Yakuza alll fighting each other, another person comes into the equation. A man who has been fighting a battle since fuedal times to open the portal, but needs a reincarnation of a particular woman to do it.
Early on in the film it becomes quite obvious that the plot, logic, acting and pretty much everything else play second fiddle to the mindless entertainment and violence that graces the film. The characters in the film are all pretty much 1 dimensional, in my opinion. The lead guy, prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi), is cool, calm, collected, but very deadly, there is the psychopathically insane acting bad guy, the incredibly scared bad guy who loses it when things get rough, the loyal bad guy who will obey his orders regardless, and the over the top, over confident police guy. In fact most of the characters are very stereotyped, but the stereotype has been magnified ten fold resulting in characters that are so incredibly over the top in their particular trait. For the lead guy this worked, as he does look cool and stylish, yet very deadly, but for the bad guys and the police guy, it made them nothing short of annoying. This was particularly the case for the bad guy who wears the green shirt. He is the psychopathically insane one, and I can honestly say I don't think I have ever seen any character, in any film, EVER, that was as infuriating as this one. I didn't like most of the time that he was on screen, and I was always hoping that he would just be killed so that he was out of the film.
This leads nicely onto the acting... While I didn't think too much of the acting on the whole, I don't particularly think it is the cast's fault, as I do believe that the characters were written that way. Take the guy in the green shirt again as an example. There is no way that I can imagine that anyone would choose to act that way. It has to be how the director instructed him to act, or at least I hope so. Everyone, because they are so over the top in a particular direction, doesn't have a chance to show any real acting qualities, but they do succeed in making their characters over the top and quite one dimensional, so in that respect I guess they do their job well enough for the purpose of the film. But I don't think anyone in the film will ever look back at Versus as anywhere near a high point of their career as far as acting goes. The best performance, I think, was done by the lead bad guy (Hideo Sakai), as he wasn't quite as one dimensional as the rest of the cast.
Versus is a low budget film, there is no missing that, and it is clear that the vast majority of the budget went on the special effects, particularly the gore. Being a zombie film there would be no excusing it if there were not a decent amount of bloody, gory violence. Well this blood and gore is present throughout the film, but the vast majority of it is on display in the scenes following the realisation that the dead in the Yakuza burial ground have come back. There are decapitations, guttings, lots and lots of impacting bullets, and other severings. If you are a fan of this sort of gory violence then I don't think you will be that disapointed with what you see here. My main gripe was that there wasn't enough of it. Once those scenes were out of the way, there was only a little gore by comparison later on in the film.
The action comes in three forms in Versus: gunplay, swordplay and hand to hand fighting. With all three it is a definite case of style over content. Everything is done to make it look good. Prisoner KSC2-303 swings his leather coat a lot, there is a lot of posing, particularly near the climax of the final fight, and in general everyone does their best to look cool. With the gunplay this was ok but with the sword fighting, and particularly the hand to hand fighting, it didn't work too well. Neither of the latter two really did much for me. I personally didn't think the fights looked that great, they just came across as generic action, with nothing in it to make me take special notice. The only exception was the red head dude who looked like he was a proper martial artist as he could kick well. That fight had a little extra "oomph" in it which made it more memorable, but aside from that, there was nothing to get the heart really pumping in excitement.
Where I will give credit to the film, though, is that it had a particular filming style which I am fairly partial to: Long takes. Many scenes had reasonably long takes, which to me always shows more effort from the people involved. The actors and actresses have to know their characters better, and have to work more to make these takes work. As opposed to many quick takes from different angles where the actors and actresses only have to concentrate on their character for a few seconds at a time. I don't know whether these long takes actually make the film (or any other film that uses them) look better, or whether it is simply that I appreciate them more. Either way, I always have more respect for a film when they are used, and that is one area where Versus does get my kudos. If that is the director's preferred way of shooting then I certainly look forward to his future works.
For me Versus is a film that has many different entertainment elements to it, but in each it falls short. I feel it would have been a better film, in the mindless entertainment sense, if it had focussed on one area and made the most of that. As a gore film, it has a few good moments, but doesn't follow through that well for the rest of the film, as an action film it is a little lacklustre. It could never compete with a good gunplay film, nor a good martial arts film in terms of the action, and isn't over the top enough in the gore department to come close to the likes of Braindead/Dead Alive. All that might be due to budget issues, but having said all that, it is clear that Ryuhei Kitamura has shown potential here, and should he get the chance to do a bigger budget over the top action/gore film, then I will certainly be interested. As it stands though, Versus is a watch once film, definitely best for watching with a group of friends while boozing away. If this is your sort of film, and you are not bothered about extras, then this version (for the price) is possibly the best version available.
Audio & Subtitles
Being a Japanese film, and Japanese being the original soundtrack, that is the one which I chose to watch Versus in. Despite the box stating that it was a 2.0 track, it is infact 5.1, as the menues in the DVD state. As far as I am aware the original recording of Versus was a stereo track, so this is a 5.1 mix. Watching the film though, pretty much all the sounds come from front centre. There are times when you would think this is the only channel that is being used at any point, and I thought that so much I actually went and sat next to my surrounds for short periods of time just to see if there was any sound coming from them. Yes there was, just very quietly. When there was music playing it was a bit louder, and slightly more noticable. Gun fire, I think, echoed a little round the surrounds too, but on the whole it is front centre that gets the hugely vast majority of the work. Everything sounds nice and clear, with the swords cutting into flesh and blood gushing sounds being particularly effective! My biggest complaint is that the soundtrack is a little out of synch. Speech and everything else is a fraction of a second behind the event which causes the noise. It is fairly easily overlooked, but once noticed, if you are like me, you'll keep noticing and it can be a little annoying.
My first impression of the subtitles was that there were a little small. Compared to other removable ones they are smaller, but they are easy to get used to. On the plus side, there were very few noticable spelling and grammar errors, so for that we can be thankful. On the negative side, though, some lines didn't stay on screen for long enough. Other than that though, they were actually very good.
This Thai release of Versus comes with an anamorphic widescreen picture. On the whole it is very clean, with very little speckling throughout the film. It is slightly grainy in places, but nothing that too distracting. Unfortunately, it is a little pale in colour. No colour is vibrant and full of life, except in some places red... usually when someone is spitting up blood or something like that. Detail levels aren't hugely great either. The print is very soft looking, with the finer detail being blurred out and not resolved. To me it is more like a good letterboxed print but anamorphic, if you get what I mean.
DVD & Extras
For extras this release of Versus comes with a trailer and a behind the scenes documentary clocking in at 26.5 minutes long. Unfortunately it is in Japanese with no subtitles at all. I watched most of it, and while I have no clue as to what was being said, seeing how they filmed some of the scenes was quite interesting. The menues for the DVD are in English only.
On the whole I was a little disappointed with Versus. It had been hyped beyond belief on quite a few sites I use, particularly Bullet N Babes, so I admit I was expecting something pretty good. Not just that but a few reviews which I had seen had all given it very high marks. So even though I left it for ages before I bought and watched it, it is entirely likely my expectations were still too high. It is mindless, fun entertainment, but I really just thought there wasn't anything special about it that made it the classic film it is acclaimed by many to be.
Buy this film at