It's kind of funny that the cover image for Versus, which is far and away my favourite samurai/gangster/zombie picture, is a picture of a cool guy in a trenchcoat with a sub-machine gun in one hand and a katana in the other.
Because the story itself, once divorced from the impressive amounts of pretension that it's wrapped in (that's not a bad thing, you understand), is really just the old old story of two guys and a girl.
With, as mentioned, an immense amount of straight-up pretension. And nobody does pretentious like the Japanese, it has to be said. Not even the French.
Versus is really just two hours of pretentious puffery surrounding a story in which two guys fight over one girl. All the screaming violence, the over-the-top gore, the ultra-cool poses, the hip threads, the goofy metaphysics and the intense expressions on everyone's faces for the entire picture are all just that -- a way of adding importance and "seriousness" to a story that has none.
This is a good thing. It means that when watching Versus, the only bit of the story you need to pay attention to are the expressions on the faces of the hero, the bad guy and the girl. Everything else is just there to make you go, "Ooh, cool." And that gives the whole film a sort of lightness that a picture like, say, Night of the Living Dead (which most definitely is NOT a "two guys and a girl" story) doesn't possess.
We usually think of pretention as a fun-killer, as something heavy and ponderous. But in Versus, it's the pretention that sets the story free. Interesting that the "heaviest" point in the whole picture comes when the bad guy explains everything to the hero. This is just a waste of time, really, since it has nothing to do with who's going to get the girl. It's trying to make the pretentious parts of the film actually MATTER, which they patently don't, and the fit isn't convincing. And so I always find myself losing interest right around here. It feels like the film-makers are starting to believe their own pretention, take it seriously, and that's nearly a kiss of death.
Fortunately a lot more people die (most of them more than once), and lots of things explode and get holes blown through them and there's one of the best swordfights EVER, so it's all okay.
I guess the point is that when pretention contributes NOTHING to the story, it's actually easier to take. I think this is why I always drink the foam off my cappuccinos first -- froth is fine, and coffee is fine, but mixes them accomplishes nothing. Too many pictures do a far worse job of separating their froth from their coffee than Versus