The best movies are those that make you think, make you feel, make you so much a part of their world that you never want to leave.
The One is that and more. It is a tautly paced thriller that doesn’t just grab the viewer’s attention, it seizes it with a CGI-enhanced grip and never lets go. It is a visual feast, a riot of apocalyptic imagery and beautifully photographed shots. It is an action film that would redefine rather than retread. It is a compelling story, it is a character-driven epic. As the power-mad rogue Yulaw (Jet Li) declares, “There has never been anything like what I have become.”
And there has never been anything like The One. It is more than a movie. It is an experience.
The film opens with a voice-over informing us that we are not alone. Our universe is but one of many, and many of those other universes contain our counterparts, our mirror twins. And when one of those counterparts dies, his soul energy is divided among the survivors, making them that much stronger, smarter and faster. In order to preserve the cosmic balance, a special Multiverse Agency protects against unauthorized travel to different worlds. But one agent, Yulaw, has gone rogue, tunneling to the other universes and murdering his counterparts in a bid to collect all the energies within himself and become the immortal One. The only surviving twin is a Los Angeles County sheriff in our universe, Gabriel (Jet Li). And Yulaw will stop at nothing to destroy him.
The script is a pleasant surprise, a coherently written effort by Glen Morgan and James Wong that loses none of its magic on the big screen. The story abounds with little touches that add depth to the plot, not once ever striking a false note.
Li scintillates. Gone is the stone-faced hero of a thousand Hong Kong films, the bland non-presence of Romeo Must Die and Kiss of the Dragon. Here for the very first time is an actor who delivers his lines with fluent, if slightly accented English, and injects the right amount of emotion into those lines. In an interview four years ago, Li lamented his typecasting as a perpetual fighter, explaining, “No one will pay to watch Jet Li act.” After this film, that state of affairs seems likely to change. He’s still no Kevin Spacey, but Li creates not just one, but two believable characters. They are real; they have emotions and motivations. They are not the two-dimensional martial artist ciphers that he has played in the past. Li shows poise and charisma in this outing, and the potential for succeeding in non-action roles in the future.
He is ably supported, occasionally even exceeded, by his co-stars. Veteran actor Delroy Lindo lends authority and strength to his role as Multiverse Agent Roedecker, one of two agents assigned bring Yulaw to justice. Roedecker’s partner, Funsch, is played by Jason Statham, whose intense Dirty Harry impersonation contrasts with Lindo’s silent aura of power.
But perhaps the most impressive of the talented cast is Carla Gugino. As Yulaw’s lover Massie, she is sultry and dangerous, an archetype that appears only briefly onscreen. But it is as TK, Gabriel’s wife, that she shines. She is tough and sensitive, the yin to Li’s yang. Her eyes convey love and her lips, passion, making the marital relationship so real, so poignant. The romantic angle of the typical action movie is often the most neglected and the most clichéd. But the scriptwriters take great pains to flesh out their relationship, and it is Gugino more than anyone else who makes that relationship so touching. As Gabriel wistfully declares, “She made me whole.” It is Gugino’s presence that completes this film and makes it whole as well.
James Wong, the director of Final Destination, demonstrates true artistic flair with his direction of The One. Additionally, he wisely eschews the usual clichés that seem to dog many American-made, Hong Kong-styled movies. The tired “kung-fu hip hop” of Rush Hour and Romeo Must Die is thankfully absent, with the actors essaying roles and not racial caricatures. There are no Ebonics or broken accents found here. Nor does he fall into the trap of simply repeating what came before. For example, countless other films from Reservoir Dogs to Kiss of the Dragon have been nothing more than slick re-makes of Hong Kong movies. The One is neither. It is in a class all by itself.
The visuals are atmospheric and appropriate, designed to evoke a response rather than simply to show off the latest in computer graphics and lighting design. Wong is a master of mood, creating moments so tense that the viewer will find himself sitting on the edge of his seat, nails digging deeply into his palms. Furthermore, computer generated images are never overused, nor do they ever blatantly appear false. Rather, the special effects are seamlessly integrated into the whole, giving rise to an exciting, organic blend. Certain sequences are stunning for their imagination and their execution, such as the depiction of the hellish Stygian Prison in the Hades Universe. Furthermore, the final duel between Yulaw and Gabriel is picture-perfect, creating the illusion that Li is truly battling his clone. Special effects and wires are used to break the laws of physics in new and innovative ways. Suffice it to say that no battle has ever been so aesthetically wondrous yet so kinetically enticing.
The One will move you. It will make you think, make you feel. It will draw you in and never let you go. It is touching; it is exciting; it is brutal. It is populist filmmaking at its most powerful. The Multiverse has many movies, but this is The One.
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