Fight Film Friday: Versus

Posted: October 29, 2010 in fight film friday
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Japan, 2000

Genre: Action, Comedy, Gangster, Supernatural

119 minutes

An escaped convict is dragged into a bizarre mobster plot involving the Forest of Resurrection, a place where the dead can return to life.

Although billed as a horror film due to the presence of zombies, Versus is clearly a tongue-in-cheek comedy poking fun at multiple genre conventions. I don’t think there was ever a moment in the whole movie where some kind of action or horror cliché wasn’t being used to comedic effect. The sheer amount of fake blood and gore is fantastic, and is much more of an obvious attempt at appearing cheesy than other films like The Expendables or Machete, which used far more realistic fake blood. The movie itself seems like it was shot with an extremely limited budget, judging from the quality of the film stock and the campiness of the make-up and special effects. The photography was impressive for the look of the rest of the film, but is clearly one of the earlier works of cinematographer Takumi Furuya’s career. The number of handheld shots and strange angles (combined with the lower budget film-making) made it seem like a student film at times. Still, the sort of aesthetic they used definitely has a certain appeal to it, and the end result is incredibly entertaining.

The story takes some time to hit its stride, and this makes the first half extremely difficult to sit through. One of the interesting decisions that director Ryuhei Kitamura made was that no one ever addresses each other by name, making for a very strange viewing experience where you must wholly rely on the actors’ characterization to understand who relates to what. The acting makes it work, but don’t expect Oscar winning readings from anyone. The performances are either cartoonish or wooden, making it particularly difficult to cheer for the hero’s complete lack of charisma or charm. However, the villains of the film do make up a cast of fun characters, adding a great sense of style and comedy to what otherwise is a fairly bland plot.

The one thing that Versus really did well has got to be the action. The choreography is amazing, definitely the best I’ve seen from Japan in a long time. Lots of pretty obvious wire work, but the fights are fun and use a variety of distinct styles. It feels very comic book inspired, as if it was lifted from the pages of a martial arts manga. Unfortunately, the filming doesn’t do the action justice, and is often awkward or shaky during key moments of suspense. But if you can manage to get past that, there is a lot of very entertaining and humorous fights to be had during the movie’s considerable length. Despite a low budget and some experimental film-making, Versus is a diamond in the rough for fight film fans, and is definitely worth a viewing if you can find a copy.

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