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Versus
2000 - R - 119 Mins.
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Producer: Ryuhei Kitamura
Written By: Ryuhei Kitamura and Yudei Yamaguchi
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka, Kenji Matsuda, Yuichiro Arai
Review by: Jennie Kermode
   

Covered by expenses?
A group of men meet in a forest. Two of them have apparently escaped from prison. Also present is a girl who seems to have been kidnapped. Macho posturing ensues; guns are pointed; one man gets shots to bits, and then he gets back up again. This is when our motley collection of anti-heroes begin to realise that they're in serious trouble.

"Versus" is a Japanese zombie movie unlike any other. Made by a small team on a very small budget, it all hinges on the spectacular fight choreography of Yuji Shimomura, with everything which happens in the story subservient to this. Character development is entirely bypassed. These are, after all, the super-cool, deliberately emotionless heroes adored by Manga fans. Their motives come from destiny, lust for power, and a futile feminine love which we never really see acted upon. Grand speeches are made about opening the gate to the other side, and there are ever more complex rituals to be performed, but all this is just window-dressing. What matters are the fight sequences. By setting his story in the Forest of Resurrection, Kitamura enables his small cast to come back and have a go at one another over and over again.

Every zombie movie needs creepiness and gore. In this case, the former is only really present at the start, when most of the characters have yet to realise what's going on. Their gradual understanding is well-handled and doesn't eat up too much screen time. There's a particularly entertaining moment when a criminal gang remember that this is the place where they've been burying the corpses of their enemies for years. Unlike western zombies, these creatures have quite good memories and are all able to handle guns, but they're essentially fragile; half-rotted heads and limbs are easily removed. The use of guns by the living is double edged; for the most part, they never run out of bullets, but the noise they make attracts more of the undead. Consequently, we see numerous scenes of zombies being dispatched using martial arts techniques and primitive weapons, a precursor of the climactic fight scenes in which the protagonists mysteriously come into possession of samurai swords.

In the lead role, Tak Sakaguchi is a perfect nonentity, highly skilled at striking a pose, the ideal comic book hero. Villain Hideo Sakaki has a more muted appearance, but is able to make up for it by exclaiming wildly in the Greek style. Any serious attempt at acting is left to the girl, Chieko Misaka, but is confounded by the interrelation of her character with mysticism and the supposed spiritual core of the film. Subsidiary characters are important mostly for the way they look, but, as hitmen and policemen, it does at least make sense that they should be trained fighters.

"Versus" has a ridiculous plot, contains some awful dialogue, is full of wooden acting, and has the cheesiest closing sequence since "Highlander II"; but if what you're looking for is a bit of the old ultraviolence, you won't find it much sharper than this.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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