When I was younger, I remember watching Terminator 2 for the first time. I was blown away by the special effects, the blistering pace (even though the movie is a pubic hair shy of 3 HOURS LONG!!!), and above all, the fantastic fight scenes and gun play.
After watching my main man Arnold descend into his fiery grave, melting to death while giving a thumbs up, the hunt was on. I needed to see more. More action, more guns blazing, more motorcycles chasing helicopters, more….EVERYTHING.
My search led me to all the American action movies you could think of. Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Tango and Cash and everything in between. But I was getting older, and even at the turn of the century, the American action scene just wasn’t cutting it.
Enter the Internet and the ridiculous underground buzz a little Japanese film called “Versus” was getting.
After reading some reviews, I got my mom to order it for me. Luckily it was around Christmas time, so it wasn’t a tough sell.
Little did I know that the blood lust that a cyborg and a liquid robot started years ago would finally be quenched.
Versus, directed Ryuhei Kitamura, is a story of good versus evil. I won’t go to deeply into the plot, because I believe it’s actually quite good. This fight takes place throughout history, with the same two combatants fighting over the soul of a girl. This time however, they are fighting in present day in the Forest of Resurrection, which is the 444th portal to “the other side.” A ruthless gang also becomes involved, a gang that is notorious for killing people, and then burying them in the massive forest.
Throughout the movie we are introduced to different characters, all of which make sense and have great varying personalities and fighting styles. At some points, you may wonder for a second if Kitamura is bringing in too many people into the fray, but he keeps things well-organized, and does a good job explaining as least the bare essentials as to who is who and why they are there.
The acting is quite satisfying, Kitamura pulls a bit of a John Woo in his films, usually using Tak Sakaguchi and Hideo Sakaki as his leading men, much like John Woo used Chow Yun fat and Tony Leung in some of his films. The supporting cast doesn’t just take a seat to the main men in the story however, as is illustrated by Kenji Matsuda’s hilariously over-the-top performance of a gang leader who loves to kill, but has a bit of a flair for the dramatic…and rapid-cycling bi-polar disorder. At then end of the day though, Sakaguchi and Sakaki prove that even language barriers (I watch my foreign movies with subtitles on, as to try and get a feel for whether or not the actors I’m watching cant actually act) can’t detract from their on-screen presence, even in the subject matter is very far-fetched.
The real star here though, is Kitamura. No, he doesn’t pull a hitchcock and show up in his film, instead he delivers some amazing shots, both of his frenetic and mind-blowing actions scenes, and of the lush, living and haunting forest that the entire movie is shot in. The largest compliment I can give to him, and the best example of Kitamura’s film-making ability is that if you do watch Versus, think about how much you feel it would have cost to make that movie. I bet you never would’ve guessed Kitamura cranked out this gem on a mere budget of 400,000. Let the comparisons to Evil Dead begin.
And speaking of Evil Dead, I think that’s as good a place to come to a conclusion as any. Kitamura has taken the idea of the haunted forest that can ressurect people and the battle between good and evil that seems to always take place their, and fused it with hong kong style gun play, eastern style martial arts, european-influenced brutality and gore, and a simple yet effective epic storyline to create something very original, using parts that are very familiar to any serious movie fan.