Versus– 2000, Ryuhei Kitamura
At some point, someone in Japan said “Hey- I really liked The Matrix! Let’s do that! Only, we want zombies. And blood. And swords. And we only have 11 dollars. And we aren’t really very talented. Also, the zombies can do karate sometimes. Now go!”
And with that, Japan crapped out Versus. This formula apparently works for a lot of people, and the film does have a large following. I was misled into first viewing Versus after a blitz of positive buzz from some of its fans, who assured me that if I like sword films, Evil Dead, Dead Alive, or zombies in general, I would LOVE Versus! Think again, friend. This movie is live action anime, first and foremost. Just because something works as a cartoon does not mean it should be brought into reality. Did none of you see Cool World?! If not, don’t.
The biggest issue with Versus is that it lives in eternal pursuit of the cultural construct we call “The bad ass.” For many, being “a bad ass” is the single highest honor a fictional character can achieve. Idiots especially worship the Cult of Bad Ass, because to them, the bad ass is in direct contradiction of subtlety, which they despise and do not understand. To them, a Bad Ass can do anything cool that it wants to, and it completely ignores boring things like “motivation,” “depth,” or “not having a learning disability.” Therefore, when a moron generates media (Paul W.S. Anderson), in this day and age it is overwhelming how often they will strive to create a “bad ass” for their piece. Since they don’t understand what actually makes someone a bad ass, this usually means taking a douche bag, tossing him in some wrap-around sunglasses, maybe a tank top, a trench coat, or both, and asking him to speak in a low, raspy voice and act like he can’t be bothered by explosions or impending death.
The characters in this movie want to be bad asses so, so hard. Everyone wears black exclusively. It’s like the costume designer showed up with dark blue once and the director punched them in the throat for insulting his mandatory and entirely monochromatic wardrobe demands. These black clad dopes spend a lot of time slowly and laboriously sleazing through shots, just basking so hard in how much of a bad ass they want to be, techno music doing it’s part to confirm that yes, in case you missed the wrap-arounds and black clothes, these guys are total bad asses, seriously, you guys.
Here’s an example of the sort of blatant, towering douchebag colossus you will see in Versus:
Behold! This is possibly the most flamboyant of Versus‘ childish, “bad ass” characters. As you’ll notice, he has a black belt in over-compensation, and the term “understated” ain’t in his dictionary. Every single aspect of his personage has to just tug on your sleeves and plead with you to believe that he is a bad ass. Let’s break it down;
- no sleeves
- fingerless gloves
- leather pants
- a damn motorcycle
All of which are black. If douchebag/faux-badass spotting was birdwatching, this would be like spotting a bald eagle soaring above the Rocky Mountains with an American flag clenched in it’s talons.
Here’s another fun “bad ass” character- this magical flying Kung Fu zombie (I hate you so much, Versus…)
First off; if your hairstyle could be described as “The Ronald McDonald,” you are not a bad ass. EVER. PERIOD.
Secondly, look at this asshole’s face. Where does he get the gall? Look how cool he thinks he is. Let’s talk about this. That asshole went in to a salon and paid to get his hair dyed. This means he had to sit quietly in one of the little caps while it bleached, and then wait in the lobby wearing a little towel on his head, and then lean back in one of those sinks, ALL of that shit this guy did- OR he had to go to a store, buy a dye pack, and do it at home, probably with a friend to help him. Not very bad ass. It’s important for you to visualize anyone who will pass themselves off as unflappably cool primping their balls off on the regular like a high school sophomore to remind yourself that this guy did a lot of really, really, really not cool stuff to look this way, so you shouldn’t just take his word for it. Do you think he wore those sunglasses and kept his eyebrows cocked throughout his entire barber shop experience? Do you think he went to one of those trendy salons? And then he gelled it. Every morning. Think about that. Try to imagine anyone looking like a bad ass while they painstakingly primp their hair so that it looks just spiky enough. A bad ass doesn’t care if his hair is combed!!! Fuck you, Versus! Fuck you, these people are not cool! All your characters are total dorks!!!
THE PLOT- In a veritable “clash of the bad asses,” two bad ass escaped prisoners rendezvous with some yakuza bad assess for some reason. I’m not sure. However, this bad ass cocktail turns out to be a little too bad ass, and the deal goes south, leading to a massive yakuza bad ass karate throw down, which, according to movies, is customary in Japan. Things are further complicated when we discover that, holy smokes, this is some kind of fancy zombie forest! You die here, and you get back up. Get ready for some techno.
So, the gangsters brought a woman with them, and apparently, the plan was to sacrifice her in some ritual. The yakuza boss, who arrives a little later in the film, is some sort of black magic practitioner bad ass who hopes to open some magic portal, which is hidden somewhere in the forest. This is the cliched, boring plot Versus has to offer, but it’s buried underneath a big, stupid heap of stylized violence, so you might have a hard time following it. Or giving a shit. Guys, I know that on some level this sounds awesome, but trust me, it sucks so hard.
Do you think this guy was thinking “yeah, I’m such a bad ass!” while he gelled his fucking hair and shaved his little goatee just right in his bathroom mirror that morning? It had to be perfect. He got up early to do it.
Almost no one in this movie has a name- details like that are deemed trivial by Versus. The identities of these characters are throwaway, all that matters is their actions and the role they play in this story. That’s really reflective of two tenets of Versus‘ theology; one; the rejection of anything too boring to hold the interest of today’s youth culture (Translation: “Uuhhhhh, who cares what his name is? Fred- No! Master Chief! Look, he’s a bad ass, okay?!”), and two; the notion that throughout history there are cyclical patterns caused by the reincarnation of key individuals, an idea central to Versus’ plot. The film takes place mostly in present day, but also features brief scenes set in Feudal era Japan, as well as the distant future; and in all three eras our character’s roles remain identical. These people are reincarnated again and again and forced to carry out the same battles throughout history, so their individual histories at any given point in the timeline are unimportant next to their roles in the grand scheme. I can recognize that this is a cool idea, but that’s really the only thing going on here that I respect. Beyond that, Versus is a vapid thing, and it’s saddled with stylistic choices that are childish and annoying. And stupid. They are. They really are.
Here, look, some stupid; these yakuza hop into a nifty little trio pose before blasting a zombie.
Isn’t that cute? While the man on the bottom, or “the power bottom,” as I believe they call him, holds in place, the two men on the outside edge of the screen run to the opposite sides of him, do little gun twirls and freeze into some choreographed yakuza power pose so they look extra bad ass while shooting. What the fuck?!? Is this a shoot out or a chorus line?!?? Attention; people who like Versus; THAT is in your movie. Who is going to argue with me over this?! Are you kidding me? I can’t believe the shittiness of this movie is disputed!!!
And don’t you dare pull that “you’re thinking about this too much” shit with me. When an artist does their job well, you will appreciate their work more and more once you start to analyze it. If spacing out and drooling happily to the noises and moving shapes is required to appreciate your art, then you suck and you’ve done a horrible job, and also you are an idiot and I hate you.
One legitimate boast for Versus; it’s gory. Lots of blood, lots of violence, and that’s going to win over a lot of people. However, it’s no Dead Alive. There’s also nothing to anchor the gore that isn’t stupid and totally void of substance, so unlike Dead Alive’s goofy RomComZomDram hero’s quest, Versus comes out feeling like a goofy snooze fest full of losers and dorks. On this one I must differ with popular consensus, Versus sucks, and it can fuck itself.
Fuck you, Versus.