Judge Joel Pearce thought this was Ultimate Verses, the poetry slam DVD.
Beware the past.
In North America, we have The Blair Witch Project. It was made for almost nothing, featured teenagers running through the woods with shaky camera work, and made a killing at the box office. Japan has Versus, which was made for cheap, featured a bunch of people running through the woods, slicing up zombies, and engaging in crazy gun battles. It's gained a massive cult following all over the world, enough that the producers have decided to return to their gory little classic and assemble this Ultimate Versus.
Facts of the Case
Prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi, Shinobi: Heart Under Blade) escapes from prison, only to find himself in the forest of resurrection. A gang arrives, having kidnapped an innocent woman (Chieko Misaka, Suicide Club), and is instructed to keep him busy. Much fighting ensues. Then the leader of the gang arrives (Hideo Sakaki, Black Kiss). He has an evil scheme to rule the world. Both the prisoner and the girl are part of this scheme, and they will have to fight hard to save themselves—and perhaps the world. Much fighting ensues.
For the record, this is the third version of Versus to be released on DVD. Originally, there was a choice between the original unrated cut and the R-rated version. Ultimate Versus is a complete recut of the film, and one that's well worth discussing. Most of the time, director's cuts simply add a few seconds of footage to convince fans to purchase what's essentially the same film twice. In this case, though, the producers of Versus went back into the forest, working hard to deliver a more impressive, more cohesive, more graphic vision of this much-loved cult hit. New footage of the stars was filmed, CGI was added where it could be done subtly, and color correction was used where needed. There's no point in going over all the changes here, and I don't need to. An insert in the case describes the 28 changes to the film in excruciating detail. Most of them don't add much to the film on their own, but when you add up all the pieces, they do improve the overall film.
Of course, the benefits and drawbacks of the original film still hold up in this version. Ryuhei Kitamura manages to perfectly capture the look and feel of anime in live action, and his cinematography is spectacular. The fight scenes show an audacity and boldness that few directors share, and a few of the sequences will shock the most hardened action fan. This director's cut is even more graphic than the original, but it doesn't feel any more excessive (though it really is a film about excess). In the middle of the wild fights, it never matters if we don't know who people are or why they are fighting. It looks cool, and we all know that's what the film is meant to be about.
Of course, Versus isn't all fighting, and that's where the weaknesses come in. In true B-movie tradition, the acting isn't very strong, and this is a film that has never made much sense. The dialogue is stiff and vague, conversations that take up far too much time between fights. This is something that Kitamura got better at when he made Azumi and Alive, but he indulged himself far too much in his breakout film. I probably would have indulged myself with the fast-forward button if I didn't need to review the film. The director's cut is just over two hours long, which is about 30 minutes more than a film like this ever needs to be. Fortunately, the new cut doesn't feel any longer than the original.
The transfer in the new set is pretty solid considering the pedigree of the film. A few of the sequences look really ugly, though, and there are some compression problems as well. There's some ugly interlacing in the added scenes, even though the original footage is properly flagged for progressive displays. You can only get so much image sharpness with two DTS tracks on the disc, though, but the audio options are appreciated. If you'd rather, you can listen to Versus in stereo or DTS-ES 6.1, in Japanese or in English. Regardless of what mix you choose, you will be treated to loud music, tons of squishy sound effects, and some overemphasized ambient noise. In addition, you can choose between three commentary tracks: the original director/cast track, a new track recorded for the ultimate edition, and a track with the director and producer. They have a lot of fun talking about the film, though it's a lot of chatter to wade through, for even the most stalwart fans.
The second and third discs contain the rest of the special features, and they seem almost endless. The second disc contains a massive photo gallery of promotional content, as well as several production featurettes. They show Kitamura's earlier works, and the development of his style up to and including Versus. They are surprisingly comprehensive for such a low-budget film, and once again the passion of the filmmakers shines through. Finally, we also get to see the making of the new footage, as the actors once again return to the location to grab some extra footage. By the time you make it through all of these featurettes, you will feel like you were there during the actual production.
The third disc contains even more special features. This includes some deleted scenes, along with commentary from Kitamura and several actors. There are over 20 minutes in all, and I'm glad they weren't all in the film. There's also an interview with the editor, which shows how the new edition was put together. Tak Sakaguchi also gives an extended interview, discussing his journey through the film. As on the previous special edition, we get short films Nervous and Nervous 2, which are treated like side stories of Versus. They're lots of fun for serious fans of the film, though they certainly pale in comparison. The rest of the disc is handed over to trailers, film festival footage, and other promotional material. With this many extras to sift through, this is unquestionably the definitive version of Versus. It includes everything from the previous special edition, and adds hours more viewing.
For fans of Versus, it's hard to go wrong with Ultimate Versus. Even if you already own the special edition, you will want this slick new package on your DVD shelf. It's not going to convert people who dislike its continual violence and silliness, though. If you're a fan of cult Asian film and have yet to check out Versus, this is the version to get. Rarely has this much work been put into a DVD edition of a film like this.
Not guilty. These guys can just keep on fighting forever.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
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