Great creators come from small starts. Before he directed Aliens and Terminator 2 (and well before he completely embarassed himself with Avatar), James Cameron directed a little film that nobody has ever seen called Pirahna Part Two: The Spawning. Before John McTiernan helmed Predator and Die Hard, he directed a weird movie about tribal ghosts hunting Pierce Brosnan called Nomads.
It's with that mindset that I was willing to give Versus another shot. You see, Versus is the creative brainchild of Ryuhei Kitamura (Godzilla Final Wars, action director for Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes) and Yûji Shimomura (action director for Onimusha 3, Devil May Cry 3 and 4, and Bayonetta), so with that kind of insane action pedigree you'd have to have something good going for you. Hell, even the movie's DVD cover evokes that Devil May Cry "stylish action" feel, making you hope for a combination of swordplay and balletic John Woo-style gunfighting.
Here's the thing: I wasn't even expecting a good action movie. I was expecting some really kickass action choreography tied together by a paper-thin plot that made little to no sense--y'know, like any movie Tony Jaa is in, or Ninja Assassin.
But Versus goes beyond that. It's really saying something if Ong Bak 2 (which was complete batsh*t bonkers insanity from beginning to end) makes more sense than Versus.
The movie starts with a massive swordfight taking place in a forest, with a lone samurai fending off attackers who just keep coming. A mysterious monk enters and kills the weakened samurai.
Then we flash-forward to the present day, where two prisoners, KSC2-303 and Other Prisoner (it's important to stress that I'm not making any of this up) are in the same forest running away from... something? Eventually they run into some yakuza, who are kidnapping a girl (played by a very confused-looking Chieko Misaka), and they fight them, but then Other Prisoner gets killed by the yakuza, and then zombies show up.
Don't worry, the fun doesn't stop there! So the zombies attack the yakuza guys, but they all get shot dead with a combination of slick gunplay and Kenji Matsuda's facial expressions. It's important to remember that Kenji Matsuda's character is literally named "Yakuza Leader with Butterfly Knife."
KSC2-303 (who will from now on be named 303) saves The Girl (yup, that's her name) and runs off into the forest, where he finds a trenchcoat and gets the drop on Motorcycle-Riding Yakuza with Revolver. Then 303 throws his gun away and they have a surprisingly well-choreographed martial arts battle.
Meanwhile, Yakuza Leader with Butterfly Knife is being chased by zombies, and we find out that all of these zombies are people that the yakuza have killed and dumped in the woods. Suddenly, the zombies all draw guns and a big gunfight erupts in the middle of the forest. For like fifteen minutes straight, there's no actual dialogue--just grunting and gunfire.
By now, one of three things is happening: either you're on the edge of your seat, wondering what on Earth happens next, or you're silently sobbing into your hands, or you're giggling maniacally as you continue on this descent into madness.
So the yakuza have a gunfight with the zombies, and 303 punches The Girl out so he can join in on the fight. The zombies are killed, more yakuza arrive to help Yakuza Leader with Butterfly Knife, and then a vampire shows up and kills all the yakuza, then makes them his undead minions.
The vampire is called The Man. Oh, and something about a cop who's going to hunt down the Yakuza guys? He's not important. Anyways, after 303 defeats one of The Man's new henchmen, The Man kills his failure of a lackey, then hunts down 303 and The Girl. He talks about how he has searched for The Girl and how she's supposed to fulfill some prophecy, and then shoots 303 in the head.
YAAAAY THE MOVIE'S OVER, I can stop paying attention--wait, what? There's more? There's more.
So 303 remembers that he was the samurai at the beginning of the movie, and The Man was the monk, and they always wage this war in the forest over The Girl because if he doesn't protect The Girl from The Man, something bad will happen. But what will happen? I have no idea, the movie never tells us.
Resurrected and reinvigorated, 303 screams at the sky and a sword appears in his hand, because that's what happens when you scream at the sky.
303 stylishly kills all of the hench-vampires while the cop gets blown up by an anti-materiel rifle during the fight--exiting the story as quickly as he was introduced--until it's time for a one-on-one final boss fight with The Man. It's quite the Devil May Cry-style duel, combining wirework acrobatics, gunplay, and swordplay, culminating in a very impressive finishing move from 303.
Having sufficiently saved the day, 303 and The Girl get on the late Motorcycle-Riding Yakuza with Revolver's bike and ride off into the sunset.
Fade to 99 years in the future, where we see the eternal battle is still being waged, even in dark, foggy future Japan where everybody is bald except for the main characters. 303 (or whatever the hell his name is) now has a sword with laser sights on it, and launches himself at The Man to continue their duel.
Congratulations! By reading this column, you have all saved yourselves from watching Versus, although I think some of you have already been driven insane just by this small glimpse into Kitamura and Shimomura's portal of cinematic madness. I'm sure some of you will want to check this movie out, but don't say I didn't warn you.
Y'know what's embarassing? I thought this movie was amazing the first time I saw it. The choreography, as well as the sheer emphasis on non-stop action, was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. In reality, it was just Ryuhei Kitamura and Yûji Shimomura inviting some friends out into the woods with a camera, some airsoft guns and like forty gallons of fake blood and deciding to make up the movie's plot on the fly. Sometimes, a creator's early work is left obscure and unwatched for a reason.
Have you seen any of Ryuhei Kitamura's other, better movies, like Godzilla Final Wars, Azumi, or Midnight Meat Train? What about movies that Yûji Shimomura has done choreography for, like The Warrior Way (ugh) or The Returner? Don't worry, everybody--next week I'll do something good!