Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka
If you like your martial arts epics with a sci-fi touch, then Versus is just the sort of full blooded yarn worth investing in.
With its bone-crunching, bloodletting, crash zooms and weird angles in the first few minutes, director Ryuhei Kitamura sets his stall out early.
It’s one of those films that really wants to mix up its genres. Part gangster epic, part fantasy, part samurai yarn, with a score which sounds like it was composed for a video game.
Things really get going with a mysterious face-off in a wooded clearing between two escaped convicts and sharply dressed yakuza holding a woman captive.
It ends in hails of bullets and showers of blood. All of which is pretty generic, even in 2000. The welcome twist is the fact it takes place in the mythic Forest of Resurrection, the site of the 444th portal of the 666 hidden gates that link this earthly domain to the netherworld. Did you not get the memo? It’s a thing apparently.
As one of the surviving prisoners escapes with the girl into the forest, miffed gangsters soon become the least of their worries as an earlier battle between a lone warrior against hordes of zombie samurai is carried over from a millennium ago into the present day.
The plot is pure manga; I can see it working equally as well as an anime, and full marks to a besuited green-shirted villain. He’s gloriously loopy. One foot on a tree is one way of dispatching the bad guys I guess. And his smart threads deflect dirt better than Alec Guinness’s Man in the White Suit.
The demure heroine (Chieko Misaka) is delightful, though has all the depth of a game avatar, and the hero (nicely played by stuntman Tak Sakaguchi) is suitably dashing and aloof.
I’m surprised it’s not been remade with Jason Statham, or some equally nimble western action hero.
Zombies, gangsters, martial arts and the odd bit of slapstick. It won’t win any awards for subtlety, but what’s not to love?
If you like the films of Raimi, Tarantino, Romero and Woo, then give your brain five minutes to adjust to the glorious lunacy, settle back and enjoy the ride.