From the Archive – The One (2001)

TheOne

 

“What if you learned the most dangerous man in the universe…was you.”

Directed by James Wong
Starring Jet Li

There are many universes, a multiverse, and travel between them is possible.

Yulaw (Li), a dimension hopping former operative of the Multiverse Agency (MVA) seeks to kill 124 alternate versions of himself, in order to become ‘The One’; a source of order and rationality, and the ultimate power in the multiverse. Each time he kills one of his other selves, he absorbs some of their vital energy, becoming stronger, faster, and more able to fight funky battles using cool bullet-time SFX.

His final target is Gabe Law (also Li), an LA Deputy Sheriff. Gabe is a decent guy, and a badass martial artist, and like Yulaw has been growing stronger each time one of his selves is killed. With two MVA operatives also tracking down Yulaw, Gabe just wants to live his life. But then Yulaw kills Gabe’s wife, and Gabe must face himself in a final battle, to determine who will be the One.

Um… Except he doesn’t. They fight, go back to MVA HQ, from where Yulaw is sent to a penal colony and Gabe to an alternate dimension where the woman he married is still alive (although ‘he’ presumably isn’t).

What’s wrong with it?

Most of The One’s flaws come down to sloppiness. It is never explained how Yulaw managed to get his first 123 kills without repeatedly breaking into and/or escaping from the MVA facility, nor why 124 is somehow the magic number. Surely in a multiverse of infinite possibilities, there are more than 125 Jet Lis? Not only are these things not adequately explained, the film never assays any explanation for them at all, not even a bad one.

The film’s climax is also deeply…well, anticlimactic. In the end, no-one becomes the One, and we are left with a tacked on ‘king of the hill’ scene, with Yulaw establishing his dominance of the prison world. We never get to see what would have happened if Gabe became the One, and while he presumably gets to live happily ever after, it rings false that the guy who loved his wife so very much could just go and live with an identical her from another universe, without being plagued by the knowledge that he had already watched her die once.

What’s right with it?

The One’s kung fu is strong. The flow-mo work is superb, the choreography smooth and flowing, and when Jet Li fights himself at the end, the film-makers have bothered to make a difference between the two, by giving Yulaw and Gabe radically different combat styles (Yulaw is all brutal power, Gabe flowing motion). Jet Li is a charismatic actor, even if he does struggle a little with the English script from time to time. It also has few pretensions of being more than it is; a fairly silly sci-fi adventure.

How bad is it really?

Not bad exactly, more disappointing, and in the end a little unsatisfying. It just feels as though with a very little more effort – giving us a few explanations and a proper conclusion for starters – the film could have been so much better.

Best bit?

The final conflict between Gabe and Yulaw, with the two Jet Lis flawlessly blended into each single shot, and highlighting the difference in their styles; a rare thing in a western kung fu movie.

What’s up with…?

  • The 124 kills? As mentioned before, in a multiverse there should be an infinite number of him, so what’s special about 124?
  • The other ‘Laws’? There’s Scandinavian Sven Law, Rasta Law, Surfer Law; all played by Jet Li in a series of increasingly unconvincing wigs. If there’s a world in which he’s a Nordic blonde, how come he still looks just like Jet Li aside from the flowing blonde locks?
  • Yulaw’s use of ‘illegal quantum tunnelling’? Okay; I get that this is the wormhole thing, but it just sounds weird. “No officer; the atoms of my body just happened to line up and let me slip through the wall.”
  • Mouse bomb?
  • What would have happened if the other Laws had just died? Would all of their counterparts have gotten stronger? It is implied that by killing Yulaw, the MVA agents would have made Gabe The One, so what would have happened if Gabe had been hit by the car in the world he ended up in? Or if he were killed in a convenience store hold up? Isn’t he now the most important and indirectly dangerous man in the multiverse?

Ratings

Production values – Corking. The two Jets are seamless, and the flow-mo not only well done, but a little bit different from The Matrix, with various elements of the shot running at different speeds. 3

Dialogue and performances – Not bad, but not great either. The expository dialogue is a little lacking, but at no point feels so forced as in many movies. The rest is competent, but not really anything to write home about; the film has no particularly memorable quotes. The acting is good, but again not great. Delroy Lindo as the senior MVA agent takes the Laurels, largely because Li is working in a foreign language. Voice-over guy at the beginning, who lays out the multiverse stuff for us, is the biggest let-down, and is nowhere near as convincing as Patrick Stewart or James Earl Jones. 7

Plot and execution – Sadly sloppy. Most of The One’s serious flaws come from simple carelessness in this area. The exposition is incomplete, and more importantly its holes could fairly easily have been filled if someone had just taken the time to do so. The direction however is good, and the fight work especially impressive. 12

Randomness – There is a little randomness, but not as much as in many films of this type. There is no use of the dimension-hopping as a convenient deus ex machina, or any unexplained time travel or other drastic changes of the rules. There is the mouse bomb, and of course Scandinavian Sven Law, but that’s about it. 9

Waste of potential – I’m in two minds on this one. On the one hand, it does feel that with a little more effort this could have been a superb movie, instead of just a decent one. On the other, it was originally written as a vehicle for The Rock, and while I haven’t seen The Scorpion King yet… Oh well, so it could have been better, but could have been a lot worse. 11

Overall 40%

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