Review: THE ONE

An archive review from The Gingold Files.

By Michael Gingold · November 1, 2001, 8:44 PM PST

Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on November 1, 2001, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

Predictably, some quote whore has gotten himself splattered all over the newspaper ads for The One, proclaiming that it has “the best fight sequences since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Presumably, this flack hasn’t seen Rush Hour 2, Iron Monkey or, most pointedly, Jet Li’s previous English-language film Kiss of the Dragon. That movie was not without its flaws (was Bridget Fonda’s embarrassing character producer Luc Besson’s revenge for Point of No Return?), but it did play to Li’s strengths and gave him several opportunities to really show his martial-arts stuff. The One, on the other hand, keeps the traditional combat to a minimum in favor of CGI-enhanced battles that don’t really require a performer of Li’s skill.

The bait here is the chance to see Li battle himself, as The One casts him as both a heroic cop and his evil doppelganger from a parallel universe. And it is indeed a kick (no pun intended) to see the two Lis duke it out. But it’s a measure of the film’s lack of human interest that the rowdy screening crowd cheered this sequence’s every bone-crunching blow, regardless of whether it was the good Li or the bad Li getting clobbered.

Director/co-writer James Wong and producer/co-writer Glen Morgan were responsible for some of the best episodes of The X Files, and their debut feature Final Destination carried the same creepy/slightly-brainy charge. But The One, with its glum tone and undiluted chunks of scientific exposition, is more reminiscent of one of Chris Carter’s lesser entries in that series. Li plays both Gabe Law, a member of the LA Sheriff’s Department, and Yulaw, one of his 123 corresponding identities in parallel worlds. Or at least, there were 123 others; Yulaw has discovered that killing his counterparts allows him to take on some of their power, and his been bumping himself off for two years in a quest to become “The One.” Opposing him are a couple of “Multiverse” agents (Delroy Lindo and Jason Statham), who arrive in our dimension to warn Gabe that if Yulaw kills him, the villain will become unstoppable, or achieve the powers of a god. Or bring about the end of all the dimensions. Or something.

The convoluted backstory wouldn’t be such a problem if more was done with it, but unlike in a film such as The Terminator (to which The One bears some significant similarities), the sci-fi trappings are the engine that drives the entire movie, instead of a framework on which to hang a compelling human story. And the emphasis on visual trickery to illustrate Yulaw’s abilities (he can move at lightning speed—or, as the film depicts it, beat up adversaries who move in slow motion) undermines Li’s skills. The joy of watching Li on screen lies in his own gracefulness and power, and speeding him up or slowing him down lends the action scenes a distracting artificiality. The finale gives the movie a much-needed charge, but this action blowout comes too late to save the film as a whole. And did it have to be set in such a prosaic setting as a power station, with the catwalks and pipes and hissing steam reminiscent of a hundred direct-to-video actioners?

There are a few blips of humor (a glimpse of President Al Gore on TV in Yulaw’s dimension, a passing reference to Final Destination), but the filmmakers play most everything for solemn seriousness. The very last shot does have some rude comic zest, suggesting the possibility of a more bracingly inventive movie than has wound up on screen. It’s certainly a coincidence that The One has opened the same day (at least in Manhattan) as Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, which utilizes the same evil-double plotline; the surprise is that Troma’s movie offers both more entertainment and more imagination.