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Versus SE

Media Blasters // Unrated // July 29, 2003
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Hkflix]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted August 4, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Prisoner KSC2-303 escapes with a fellow inmate and together they meet some gangland contacts outside a patch of woodland. When the gangsters arrive, they have a kidnapped girl in tow and this doesn't sit well with KSC2-303. So, when one of them refuses to take his hands off the girl, KSC2-303 blows him away. Moments later, the fallen gangster gets up. He's become a full blown zombie. And so it begins.

KSC2-303 and the girl take off into the woods, and the remaining gangsters go after them. As it turns out, they are at a place called The Forest of Resurrection, a portal into the world beyond that is opening up. Unfortunately for them, it is also the spot where the gangsters have been dumping their enemies bodies. And, there is more strangeness occurring than just the reanimated dead. KSC2-303 has an affinity for the girl, and when a mysterious superhuman man arrives and begins making super zombies, it becomes clear the whole weird event is part of some pre-determined destiny.

Director Ryu Kitamura and his crew had a dream. I imagine that dream occurred after watching a marathon of Evil Dead 2, From Dusk Til' Dawn, Lone Wolf and Cub and some Ching Siu Tung and Jon Woo movies. Versus is a cross genre amalgam of swordplay, gunplay, kung fu, gangster, zombie, fantasy comedy. It is the kind of slop bucket of various styles that the good Sam Raimi (not the tepid commercial film Raimi) used to make. A little bit of everything with a cartoonish execution and tons of energy.

And, it is really the energy behind it all that makes the film. Characters are given zero backstory, much less even names. This is the kind of film that knows you don't need such things as long as the action prevails and the audience has their anti-hero, the loony bad guy, the weasel-y bad guy, the ultra dark bad guy, and the princess in need of protection. In this film it is the cool poses that make then man, and there are plenty to be had- even two "cool attired good guy" sequences that spoof Mission Impossible 2 and Terminator 2. It doesnt have to make sense- Our hero hears the gangsters in a gun battle and goes to check it out. Why? Because, he's an anti-hero, damnit. He goes where the action is.

While some of the comic relief characters, like the panicking gangster and the two cops our hero escaped from (one of whom is missing his hand because he was handcuffed to the hero), grow tiresome and the plot exposition drags a little, it doesn't drag too long before some nifty fight erupts.

Like Peter Jackson's Braindead or Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, Versus is a film for genre fans by genre fans. Like those two films, the crew that made Versus got an impressive amount of style and action out of their minuscule budgets. Like Evil Dead, they stick to one simple location. You can be guaranteed a zombie will get his head kicked off. Some squib splatter gunfights. Our hero fisticuff fighting a butterfly knife wielding baddie. Plenty of swordplay. Plenty of outlandish action and a "just when you think its over its not" ending. I'm a firm believer in balance and that there is a time for The Seventh Seal and there is a time to take out your brain and watch something like Versus. Needless to say, I was entertained, and it is nice to see a back to the basics, no pandering, no CGI, mindlessly fun action b-film.

The DVD: Media Blasters/Tokyo Shock.

My screener came with zero artwork and no case, so I wasnt aware that Media Blasters packaged the two discs in a one disc case, with the extras disc in a paper sleeve. Boo! C'mon. If you're going to say "Special Ediiton", pony up for a two disc case.

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. As I said it is low budget, so you have to be a little forgivable. The budgetary quirks allow for some scenes not as sharp as they should be, some dull contrast, and some murky color most of the time. They often just couldn't afford to wait for things like the "golden hour" or a perfectly smooth tracking shot and had to make do with what they got.

But, considering the production values and limitations they faced, this transfer does a good job with the material. The quality of how the scenes were filmed does get uneven, some showing better sharpness, color and definition than others, and some like a craning or tracking shot are a little rough around the edges. There is room for improvement since there are some artifacts and maybe the drab pic quality could go up a notch, but it should still be a pleasing enough transfer for fans.

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stereo Japanese language tracks or English 2.0 Stereo. Optional English subtitles.

Even if you are subtitle wary, a quick comparison between the 5.1 Japanese mix and the English mix should have you veering towards the Japanese 5.1 track. The English track is, in no small terms, extremely weak. So, I'm only going to talk about the 5.1 mix, which is quite good. The sound fx are as over-the-top as anything else in the film and are pushed to a near comical level. Punches will have a thunderous 'womp!' and the gunfire cracks along, all a bit generic, but no doubt intentionally so. You can tell some of the dialogue post looping wasn't totally in synch, but it is okay. The music score is appropriately cheesy techno rock. Once again, for a low budget film they got a lot of mileage out of the sound fx, though it still is obviously not a top-notch Hollywood affair.

Extras: For you all-region savvy DVD enthusiasts, this two-disc edition has extras that primarily come from a French release of Versus.

Disc One: The film--- Chapter Selections--- Trailers for Pistol Opera, Samurai Fiction, Kunoichi and Pyrokinesis--- Two Commentary Tracks: Track One with director Ryu Kitamura and cast. Track Two with Ryu Kitamura and producer Keishiro Shin. The first track features six people: Ryu, and three actors, the hero and villain, plus a guy who played one of the detectives. I think the remaining two are the producer and 1st AD. It is a very lively and jokey track. Some good stuff but not as revelatory/funny as say the Army of Darkness or Re-Animator commentaries. It is all in Japanese and subbed. The second track is in English, and in comparison to the cast track, extremely dry and filled with gaps and silence. Maybe it was because they were wary of speaking in English. Maybe because director Ryu states that he had about three hours sleep. Some fair fractured anecdotes and jokes at the cast and crews expense, but the gaps make it not likely to merit a repeated listen.

Disc Two: ***On this disc the navigation of my screener was a little rough on my Toshiba 3109, so older model players may have some trouble***--- Evolution of Versus doc (8:11)--- Scenes From Cannes (8:09)--- Behind Versus featurette (26:38)--- Interview with the Editor (12:56)--- Making of Versus documentary (24:40)--- "Nervous" side story, mini/short film featuring the detectives from the film (6:28)--- Trailers (theatrical, promo, and teaser)--- Team Versus (1:07), a little jaunt in to the film offices.--- Preview trailer (4:31)--- Easter egg trailer and "making of" short for Flesh for the Beast.

The "making of" docs are informative. Ryu notes how his main inspiration were 80's less exposition-more action films like Commando and The Road Warrior. An actor sums up the film pretty well, "There are zombies and there are Japanese people going nuts with guns."

Conclusion: A fun genre fusion made for exploitation/b-film/Asian/cult action film fans. Media Blasters have released three different editions, a standard, a directors cut, and this two-disc special edition. Obviously, if you are a bit hesitant or feel the pinch in you pocket, the more basic editions are what you will want to check out. For fans of the film or bold people that read the description and feel in their gut they'll love it, this edition certainly delivers with some informative- though not absolutely perfect- extras and a very fair transfer of the lower budgeted material.







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