Action
Versus
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Dir: Ryuhei Kitamura
Star: Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Kenji Matsuda, Chieko Misaka, Takehiro Katayama
Cert / Year: 18 / 2002
Format: DVD R2
'

There are 666 portals that connect this world to the other side. These are concealed from all human beings.
Somewhere in Japan exists the 444th portal....... The Forest of Resurrection.

Two criminals escape from police custody and find themselves in a strange forest where a local Yakuza boss has arranged for their collection by a gang of his "hoods". When the Yakuza arrive it becomes apparent that something else is going on as the prisoners begin to feel more uneasy, especially when they learn that part of this "collection" involves a girl that they have brought with them. With this bunch of Yakuza being perhaps the most uptight and obviously deranged bunch available, pretty soon shots are fired and one of them is killed which obviously makes an already tense situation rather worse. This is not made any easier when the dead Yakuza gets up, rises from the dead and proceeds to try and kill his friends forcing all concerned to let rip with a show of firepower whilst prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi) makes good his escape into the forest with the girl. The Yakuza put their former associate back down ... again and give chase, heading further into the forest they suddenly remember that they have been burying their numerous victims in these same woods for years. As that disturbing realisation hits them, so does a forest full of zombies, whilst their intended prey are also about to begin a fight for their very lives and souls......

What a fantastic blast from the Far East. This mad, mad film is a wild ride of dark humour, zombies, brutal and brilliant fight choreography not to mention fantastic swordplay all fused by Asian brilliance and containing more than one or two irreverant jibes at US cinema. This is one Asian zombie movie with a very subtle twist, and that is a major part of its excellence.

The story is steeped in karma, destiny and so forth and unlike some films it manages to make it all work well together with the unusual bed fellows of zombies, swordplay and action. Admittedly much of the decidedly dark humour is very dark and somewhat tongue in decomposing zombie cheek, but this works rather well and in the films favour for the most part, as it manages more than adequately to make all the thumbing of its nose and raspberry blowing aimed firmly at Hollywood all the more sweet. The characters are an eclectic bunch, comprising eccentric Yakuza hit men, rotting zombies, sword wielding criminals and generally dodgy individuals each as reprehensible as the other all set in an enchanted forest. I have to admit, you just can't help rooting for the "bad guy" and new anti-hero. The plot has plenty of twists and turns and keeps you on your toes so to speak by keeping you guessing all the way through, and the biggest twist of all is worth the wait and leaves the film wide open for what would surely be a cool sequel.

The direction by Ryuhei Kitamura is superb bordering on excellent as he manages to bring something new to the arena of Asian cinema. This is like George Romero and Raimi meet John Woo and Tsui Hark all in the one package and with amazing results. Kitamura has some obvious influences to his work and some moments that are very John Woo but on the whole this is fresh and inventive, creating a slick and accomplished action film which is guaranteed to give the big American "blockbusters" a run for their money. This is some of the best modern direction that I have seen from the Far East in a while. The storming assault of swordplay neatly highlights some insightful and impressive fight work, including the zombies. Yes, thats right the zombies get to kick butt and are not just the usual fare of lumbering mindless gun fodder. Zombie films can never be the same again, some of the action is very Raimi-esque, but that can only be a good thing and Kitamura even uses the camera to shoot through the wide gaping cavities in the bodies for even more effect. Good old fashioned Japanese super violence and frenetic action provide an appetising offering served up for the fans of Asian anarchy. Some of the key action scenes are extremely well arranged and superbly directed, without wanting to spoil anything the climactic battle has some perfect stillness which is amazing and helps suck the viewer right into the film before the melee resumes.

This is a very slick and very cool assault at the zombie movie genre backed by a liberal helping of action and hero film making framed by copious amounts of gun and sword play. What more could you want?..... oh yes, there are even a couple of women in the mix as well. Plenty of gore in this blood soaked melee of a movie, and some truly bizarre and surreal moments, that and of course some pretty cheesy dialogue which could be due to the translation. The action is fast paced and well orchestrated and I found Kitamura's directorial style very easy viewing which is no mean feat when the action is that fast and frenetic. The camera spins, zooms and dives with a breakneck ferocity as it endeavours to keep up with the vicious action which is at times very Manga-esque in its raw energy. The martial arts are well done, but the main strength is the sheer breathtaking action which is far more than just martial arts. The films opening 5 minutes are stunning and extremely well done, a superb in your face sword action display which sets the viewer up for the rest of the film.

A good cast all put in some cool performances even if one or two are quite obviously stark staring MAD! Tak Sakaguchi is excellent as the hero/main lead and pulls off his role really well, action, acting and humour all done well. This guy is going to be one to look out for in the future. A cool soundtrack accompanies the on screen mayhem with some good rock tracks which suit the film well. Right from the outset, you realise that you are not dealing with your usual run of the mill Asian action offering, as this is something else entirely. The story is a unique blend of several genres but settles nicely into its rythmn providing some first rate action and comedy horror. There is hardly any part of the "forest" which isn't subjected to death destruction and carnage, which is great because in the "Forest of Resurrection" once the bad guys are dead they are right back up again as zombies, hows that for a no win situation! This is one forest which I doubt that Ash would dare to tread.

Ok so this is pretty gory in places, but not to the ridiculous and excessive levels of some Asian offerings I hasten to add. The action does outweigh the comedy in the film but, you will probably find that more of the comedy will stick in your mind especially the small Matrix parody. A surprisingly good, low budget offering which exceeds the expectations and proves to be a cracking good watch. Good atmosphere, effects and performances make this a memorable and surprising not to mention thoroughly entertaining film where you don't tire of saying "cool". A truly mad arsed expedition into the far reaches of sanity and imagination, which puts Riki - Oh to shame.

Quotes

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

DVD
Picture 1.85:1 Anamorphic Excellent crisp image
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Not a bad mix
Features Cool animated menu
Small film "Nervous: The Side Story of Versus"
"Behind Versus: The Birth of A Dark Hero". Cool behind the scenes featurette
"Asia Extreme" trailer reel
Original Theatrical trailer
Mark Wyatt film notes
Star and director filmographies
Verdict Quite a good presentation. Ok, so foreign films aren't usually very impressive for extras but the team at Tartan/Asia Extreme seem to be getting their act together and making more of an effort to deliver better quality discs. The"Behind the scenes" featurette is interesting whereas the "side story" film is pure madness and mind boggling, thoroughly in keeping with the overrall tone of the movie. A nice addition to any foreign film collection.

Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home