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The contribution that Japan has made to the world of screen violence can hardly be overstated, and in the 21st Century there seems to be a new renaissance of sheer bloodiness. Movies like BATTLE ROYALE, ICHI THE KILLER and VERSUS really set new standards for out and out shocking violence that I don't think any other country in the world has matched.
VERSUS is basically all about action. The premise is a crazy one that involves kung-fu samurais re-incarnated as yakuza who then get turned into zombies and vampires. It's actually a very interesting and quite complex story in its own right, but basically it's an excuse to get a bunch of people in a forest and stage a fairly continuous sequence of hand to hand fights, sword fights and gun fights - with a supernatural angle to justify some HK style OTT acrobatics and an undead angle to justify people getting seriously messed up and still fighting on. Genius. Sick as all hell, but genius!
These days, good action movies from Hong Kong are becoming increasingly rare. For years HK stood unchallenged and exported its unique cinematic arts throughout Asia. Since the talent or the investment or the will or whatever seems to have fled the HK industry in recent years, it seems like other Asian countries are stepping up to the challenge of filling the gap. Korea has produced movies like MUSA and MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER, Thailand has produced BANGKOK DANGEROUS and TAK 4, INDIA has produced AANKHEN and MISSION KASHMIR. Hollywood and Europe have had a go too, but with so little success overall it's hardly worth mentioning.
VERSUS is clearly made by a small independant team who recognised that Hong Kong isn't going to produce the next jaw-dropping action movie any time soon, and who believed they had what it took to do it instead. It takes a lot of confidence and dedication to produce results like these on a clearly low budget, and Napalm Films must have had a lot of both. VERSUS attempts practically every type of action scene that Hong Kong has been famous for (and Japan traditionally has not), and pulls most of them off very well.
There'd been such a lot of hype around VERSUS on the net for ages that I'd found myself instinctively hating it before I knew anything about it, but when I saw the trailer I was converted to enthusiasm. Seeing the wild disparity between the cool SHIRAYUKI HIME trailer and the dreadful full length movie gave me some trepidation about VERSUS, which is probably a good thing since at least I wasn't expecting something flawless. VERSUS is not flawless, but it's much much better than SHIRAYUKI HIME.
The action scenes are not better than Hong Kong's best - they're not even nearly as good as some of the scenes in movies like MAGNIFICENT WARRIORS in fact, but they're imaginatively and enthusiastically staged and filmed. And violent! Oh so very very violent! The special effects are some of the most convincingly brutal I've seen. ICHI THE KILLER may have had more outrageous effects, but was never in danger of having convincing effects. BATTLE ROYALE may have had more realistic violence, but nothing like the sheer magnitude of the bodily damage people take in VERSUS! People get cut in half, lose limbs, have gaping holes blown through them... well, you know how much it takes to stop a zombie moving . It's all played fairly non-seriously, but not to the cartoonish extent of ICHI. It looks pretty damn real.
Definitely not one for the squeamish, really not a family movie. But for the sick puppies out there who maintain an innocent curiosity as to just how violent a movie can be (like myself, I admit), VERSUS is definitely a must-see!
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