El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Friday, June 25, 2004

VERSUS (2000)

Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Written by Ryuhei Kitamura & Yudai Yamaguchi

In Poetics, Aristotle writes about the importance of subject matter in stories. He was referring to plays, but the argument has been also applied to film, most notably in a series of point-counterpoint essays by Andre Bazin and Eric Rohmer that appeared in Cahiers du Cinema. Aristotle’s question, reframed for modern times, is if you could only watch one movie would it be a zombie movies or a samurai movie? Ryuheo Kitamura has laid the subject to rest with Versus, which combines both genres.

The films opens with a prologue that lets you know we are in for a wild ride. Title cards reveal information about the Forest of Resurrection and portals that connect this world to the other side. The next transition is a literal cut; parts of a body fall away having been sliced in half by a samurai. The camera moves forward as fluids spray out of the pieces. Men who look bloodied and badly beaten surround the samurai and before we know what is happening, the camera flies around as he makes mincemeat out of them. The samurai sees another man and charges him, but this mysterious man kills the samurai with one blow.

We cut to two prisoners running through a forest. They make it to a clearing where they are to be picked up, but the plans change quickly. Four men, dressed in black, have shown up with a female captive. They train their guns on the prisoners and inform them that they are waiting for their leader to show up.

Angry that the deal has changed, one prisoner sees an opening and takes it. In rapid succession, he grabs one of the men as a hostage, using his gun to kill one of the captors, allowing the girl to run behind him for safety. A standoff occurs as the two remaining men and the prisoner aim their guns at each other. Before anyone knows what to do, the dead man rises up and starts attacking his former associates. They start to shoot at him, but barely slow him down. The armed prisoner blows a big hole in his chest and finally stops him. The bad guys shoot the other prisoner, but he doesn’t stay down for long.

There’s some bad mojo at work in this forest and things are going to take a turn for the worse when we learn that the bad guys have dumped a lot of bodies here over the course of their duties. While that seems like enough to contend with, the stakes increase when the leader and his highly skilled force enter the mix.

Versus is well structured as it starts you off in the middle of the story. The action moves your interest along and leaves no time for questions. The film is surprisingly smart for the genre, which usually doesn’t worry about plot points once “dyin’ time’s here.” There are intriguing twists and turns as the story unfolds and even when you think it’s over, it isn’t.

The particular disc I had wouldn’t play on my DVD player, so I had to watch it on my PC. The visuals looked okay, but nothing spectacular. I don’t know if this was because the disc was a DVD-9, which I have never seen before so I have no frame of reference. It might be a bootleg for all I know, considering the English on the case has a lot of misspellings.

In interviews Kiamura talks about being influenced by films of Sam Raimi and John Carpenter from the ‘80s. It is certainly evident in the film’s visuals, which are made up of a wide array of camera movements that are frenetic and elaborate. The film is packed with all manner of fighting: guns, blades and hand to hand. Of course, there’s plenty of blood spurtin’ and flying chunks of zombie.

All in all, the filmmakers get a lot out of what appears to be a limited budget. Versus is a lot of fun and makes for a good midnight movie. I wished I had watched this with a group of people and/or intoxicants.