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Zombies. Escaped convicts. Mobsters. An ancient battle between two men. And a forest that seemingly grants eternal life... one way or another.

More questions than answers are raised in the oblique, shifting storyline of the cult hit "Versus," since director Ryûhei Kitamura seems intent on winding eerie, bizarre plot twists all around the seemingly simple plot. It has plenty of gore, fighting and a brilliant debut performance by Tak Sakaguchi -- as well as a timeless battle between good and evil that apparently lasts throughout multiple reincarnated lives. And we're not quite sure which is which.

According to the movie, there are 666 portals concealed in this world, which connect to the "other side." One of these is in Japan, called the Forest of Resurrection -- which apparently is connected to a long ago priest and samurai's fight.

Present day: Prisoner KSC2-303 (Sakaguchi) and his fellow escapee are met near the Forest by a gang of mobsters, but the already-tense atmosphere rapidly degenerates into a bloody war. And then dead bodies start getting up and savagely attacking people. The prisoner escapes with a mysterious girl (Chieko Misaka) whom the mobsters had been ordered to bring there -- he's compelled to protect her, and she seems strangely familiar to him.

The mobsters pursue the girl and the prisoner into the Forest, intending to kill them both -- but the prisoner and their crazy leader both cause even more deaths... and more gun-toting bloodthirsty zombies. So what exactly is going on here? Apparently a neverending battle throughout the centuries in this very Forest, over a young woman with a mysterious power -- and it brings Prisoner KSC2-303 up against an ancient enemy (Hideo Sakaki) whom he's fought in endless prior incarnations.

"Versus" is one of those movies you should watch at least twice -- a lot of its cryptic twists and eerie explanations fly over your head on the first viewing, and you're likely to not really understand the underlying plot. While it's a cool horror/action flick on the surface, it becomes even more than that as the story of the Man versus the Prisoner is slowly unpeeled like the layers of an onion. Flashbacks, hints of familiarity, and a brilliant twist ending that turns everything upside down.

If there's a problem with "Versus," it's that many of the questions raised are left unanswered -- while some are best left to the imagination, others are just headscratchers.

And Ryûhei Kitamura does a great job directing, with lots of gritty action, circling cameras and sharp jagged cuts from down on the ground. He also liberally slathers the entire movie in vast gushers of blood, dismembered body parts (Sakaguchi bisects a guy in the first scene), and savage fights with guns, swords and fists.Tak Sakaguchi spins through the movie with savage grace like a blood-spattered ballet dancer, and he manages to make constant mayhem and destruction look easy and uncomplicated.

And Kitamura gives the whole movie a certain gruesome sense of humor -- there's a knife-swinging mobster who is absolutely cackling-bugnuts, and the zombies produce plenty of over-the-top gore. And Sakaguchi has a brilliantly tongue-in-cheek scene where he strips off a dead man's clothes, and poses coolly in a long sweeping leather coat (while the girl tells him, "You're crazy!").

This was only Sakaguchi's first movie role, but the gorgeous guy handles it beautifully -- he's all cool, sharp-eyed intensity, and manages to hint that there's something strange underneath the callous criminal exterior. Sakaki has an equally dangerous, lean vibe as the mysterious Man who serves as the prisoner's counterpart, and Misaka holds her own as a psychic damsel who is trying to stay afloat in a situation where nobody can be fully trusted.

"Versus" is a brilliantly layered, twisting tale with plenty of gore, dismemberment and razor-sharp action scenes -- and if it didn't leave some of its questions unanswered, it would be the perfect cult flick. Definitely catch this one.
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on 14 January 2005
Take a look at that cover. A guy wearing a long leather trench coat, with a katana sword in one hand, and a pistol in the other. Already you're intrigued, aren't you? After all, it's Japanese, on the Asia Extreme label, so the signs are looking good. Well...
There is a huge great problem with versus that becomes apparent after 20 minutes - plot, and lack thereof. The opening credits speak of a portal to hell (number 444) and we begin with a samurai slicing a zombie in half to fade in. And the film continues this way into the present day, with a couple of escaped prisoners meeting with the yakuza, finding out there's a reason the place is called The Forest of Resurrection, and are chased just long enough before the yakuza remember the place is a dumping ground for bodies. And, yes, this is where a lot of the appeal comes from, with the notion of yakuza versus zombies, using a combination of martial arts and heavy duty weaponry. The problem that occurs is that, after this, a new plot that makes no sense comes in (something to do with Good versus Evil), and a raft of new characters appear out of nowhere to up the bodycount and little more.
Normally, this wouldn't matter due to the film obviously being a mindless bodycounter, but the fact the plot lurches from one tack to another and stops making any semblance of sense at a rapid pace because of it, in the end it does boil down to how cool a fight is, how large explosions are, and how many pieces a character can be reduced to in a short space of time. Yes, it may be amusing, but the initial promise surely offered much more than that? Especially when, in the hands of somebody like Takashi Miike, it would've jumped out of the rut of averageness with some more creative flourishes adding to proceedings so, so easily.
However, there are a few good chuckles to be had here and there - although the police subplot isn't one of them, although tries to be - especially a long-overdue riposte to The Matrix's bullet-time shot where it becomes apparent a person can't lean back that far, just as a very large gun has been discharged at them...
If you don't mind watching a rather shallow film that doesn't quite know where it's going, proved once and for all by a pointless epilogue tacked on to the end, you couldn't go far wrong with this for at least one viewing. A second one may not be such a good idea, though, because that's when the tissue-thin content finally undoes the film.
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on 18 April 2005
.. to speak of, though somewhat stylish and atmospheric.
Basically just one violent, and often gory, fight scene after another. This could be OK - but let down by an obviously tiny budget. Some of the set pieces had an amateurish quality, as if they were ad libbed on the spur of the moment.
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Versus has a bit of a strange plot. The plot only really makes proper sense right at the end of the film. But that does not really matter. The key thing here is the violence. There really is no shortage of violence in this film, and what is more it all has a kind of beauty to it. This may seem like a strange comment, after all violence is pretty much inherently ugly, but the style, speed, and fluidity of the action really does have a kind of fascinating beauty to it.
If you want a bit more depth with your ultra-violence then you CAN find it here. If you put in the effort to understand the underlying theme of rebirth and endless struggle, with good and evil proving to be two sides of the same coin, you will be justly rewarded. Smart, stylish, with a twist of black humour, Versus has a lot going for it. Snap it up.
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on 9 March 2006
Surprisingly watchable, but too long. It is the same thing over and over again, with too much style over content. Acting was quite good for such an obviously low-budget film. I would reccommend that you rent it rather than buy it.
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VINE VOICEon 24 April 2005
Versus is one of those films that could be really good, or really bad. I bought it based on the strength of the amazon reviews here, which is something I know is a bad idea, and tend not to do. But that box is SO COOL, how could the film ever be bad!?!? So with a great deal of trepidation I slipped the disc into my dvd player and hit play.
Yeah, it was really bad. I wanted to like it, I wanted to like it so much I almost managed to convince myself it was good. But no. it's a very mediocre film, the plot is awkward and cheesy, the combat is great on paper, 2 cool looking guys in a fast paced fistfight with techno banging in the background (the music is mostly terrible!), but it isn't brought to life well and ends up falling flat, and there is very little swordplay, which is what I was looking forward to most.
The acting standard is generally low, and some of the actors take it pretty seriously when the film was made very firmly with tongue in cheek. There are actually some laugh out loud moments, including one of the funniest (funny terrible or funny deliberate, however, I honestly can't tell) bad guys I've ever seen in a film, and a few fun-if-not-funny self-aware attempts at playing with genre conventions and cliché which make it easier to watch, but the humour falls pretty flat most of the time.
I think my biggest problem with the film is that most of the scenes go on too long, there are lots of reaction shots and stuff that last forever and serve no purpose, and just draw the film on way too long - by the 1 hour mark I was ready to turn it off.
But all that said, it is a pretty fun film to watch with some over the top violence, most of it stupid and cartoony, but enjoyable all the same. If you can go into this film knowing that it has a weak plot, mediocre acting, probably something lost in translation - but an awkward script, long drawn out scenes that serve no purpose and a general lack of enjoyable combat.. you might be able to enjoy the film.
Don't buy.
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on 11 November 2005
After having had this film in my wishlist for months and months I finally took the plunge and purchased it, all the while fearing I'd bought another duffer just because it was Asian and had great box-art. Mercifully, I was completely wrong!
This film is very stylishly made, the scene in which the Yakuza members first arrive and the ensuing stand off that results in our first dose of undead action is stylishly filmed and builds the tension beautifully. It is easy to forget about the low budget, the fight scenes are fast and visceral, the actors suit their roles, and the characters, while for the most part not being particularily deep, are very cool and just the type of people you want to see fighting for their lives in a forest plagued by the undead.
The plot is there despite what many have said, a Higlander-esque saga that spans back through time, intriguing and ambiguous enough that it leaves plenty to the imagination, so that you can make your own conclusions.
Some of the filming is the best I've seen, especially towards the end in the face off between the two main characters. The visual appeal of all the characters gives the director plenty to play with and there is some really imaginative camera work to be found here.
If none of this has convinced you then let me add that Versus is worth watching at least once just for the suitably insane performance of Kenji Matsuda as a particularily dangerous Yakuza member and later a skittering, howling 'hyper-zombie.'
Aside from a slightly pointless side story with two cops I really can't fault this film much at all, so if you want slick, stylish camera work, non-stop lightning quick action, an excellent soundtrack and superb characters then you could do far worse than give Versus a try.
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VINE VOICEon 9 April 2016
I consider myself excessively tolerant. I don't often give up on a film especially when others have recommended it. But this was painfully dull, horribly acted and looked like the product a failing film school student might churn out if they had half an afternoon to spend in a forest. Maybe I missed some mind-blowing denouement by switching off the dvd but, frankly, life is too short to waste on this sort of half-witted rubbish.
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on 18 May 2013
This film is one of my favorites. Blood and gore, zombies what more could you want. A much watched film.
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on 23 July 2003
would you like to see a film with zombies in a haunted forest attacking & being fought by both men with samurai swords & zakuza members as well?
would you like a film that contains stylistic direction like the camera work & production of sam raimi in the evil dead films?
would you like to see fight scenes as good as or better than the matrix & baby cart rolled into one?
would you like horror, slapstick comedy, drama, romance & suspense all in one movie?
do you like anime & yearn for a movie that recreates anime action in a "real life" movie situation?
if you can answer yes to any or all of the above questions you need VERSUS in your life.
Now if only hollywood could pull a movie off like this...
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