VERSUS *** Japan 2000 Dir: Ryûhei Kitamura. 119 mins
Legend has it that our world contains 666 portals to the ‘other side’ – the next dimension – and in Japan there is the 444th portal, which lies hidden in the Forest of Resurrection, where the whole of this movie takes place. The film opens in the past, where a samurai warrior is killing sword-wielding zombies in the remote forest, with plenty of blood letting and slicing in abundance. He is then sliced in half in one clean sweep of another samurai’s blade – queue the titles!
Moving forward through time to the modern day, we encounter two escaped prisoners on the edge of the forest waiting to be picked up by a group of ‘dodgy’ criminals.
From this point in all hell breaks loose – the positioning of the forest is bad for feng shui and after one of the criminals is shot over a kidnapped girl, a Mexican stand off situation develops. The dead criminal comes back to life – because of the close vicinity to the 444th portal – and the body count begins to rise.
One of the convicts gets killed and then ‘resurrects’ and in the ensuing chaos Prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi) and the girl (Chieko Misaka) escape into the forest.
What follows is the resurrection of the corpses of the criminals, as they are rapidly killed and they in turn go looking for both 303 and the girl.
If you like your martial arts movies with a high dose of bloody deaths, zombies, ingenious POV shots – one through the mouth of a dead person and one via a gaping stomach wound, then this is the film for you.
Some of the camerawork is not dissimilar to the fast paced gore/action scenes from the original ‘Evil Dead’ – there’s even some reminiscent similarities as the action follows the camera along the forest floor, winding its way through the fallen leaves.
Towards the end of the film there are some deep and meaningful sequences, where we find out who 303 was in the past, which gives us the reasons for one of the people in the forest hunting him down throughout the story.
It’s fun, relentless in its bloodletting and an entertaining two hours, as long as you have no problem with subtitles. Special mention has to go out to the gangster in the green shirt and red tie; the direction for his part was clearly ‘act completely insane’ throughout the film.
There is some crazy dialogue to go with the action as well, such as when one of the cops states –
“My reflexes are 500 times faster than Mike Tyson’s…” – before he’s blown into hundreds of pieces.
Accompanying the film is a soundtrack that veers between drum & bass, power metal guitar riffing and traditional Japanese music, depending on the scene and where we are in the history of Japan at the time, but it all adds to the fun and doesn’t feel out of place.
The film is directed by Ryûhei Kitamura who went on to direct the Vinnie Jones film ‘The Meat Train’ and the Jean Reno vehicle ‘The Doorman’.
This is a fairly fast paced Kung Fu/horror hybrid movie set in a wooded glade, like Bruce Lee meets Alan Titchmarsh on steroids, in Sam Raimi’s garden – fun with a capital ‘F’.
Review by Ian Carroll