I’m not what you’d call an “action movie junkie.” I know, that sounds odd, since I love me some Jackie Chan and John Woo. But correct me if I’m wrong, when you hear the words “action movie,” you don’t really think of Police Story or A Better Tomorrow, do you? No, you’re more apt to think of, oh, the latest Jerry Bruckheimer vehicle… or Swordfish (I only caught 10 minutes of this, and though the opening scene is cool, Travolta’s mugging would have been torture for 90 more minutes). But, here I am, reviewing a blatant action movie.
I believe that you have to meet most movies where they’re at. You can’t hold all movies to the same standard. Walking into The One, I expected nothing more than fluff, 90 minutes of octane-filled action liberally sprinkled with neat effects. And that’s exactly what I got, so I can’t really complain. Now, this is not going to be one of Jet Li’s crown jewels, though it’s certainly a far cry better than the pathetic Romeo Must Die.
Kudos to director James Wong, for giving the audience exactly what they need. There’s very little fluff or needless character development to weigh down the action. You get the bare amount of plot needed to push the movie forward until the next set of eye-dazzling effects kick in. This is definitely a case where the script was written around the action; each scene is an excuse to remind us of just how powerful Li’s becoming, to reinforce that we’re in store for some superpowered martial arts mayhem. Even the very premise of the film seems like nothing more than an excuse to throw in a big special effects budget.
There isn’t just one universe; there are 125. Subsequently, there are 125 versions of everyone, each inhabiting a parallel universe. And they’re all connected to each other with some sort of mysterious energy. Yulaw (Jet Li) is a former agent in charge of policing the parallel universes. However, when he’s forced to kill one of his duplicates, he gains some of his duplicate’s strength and power. Yulaw then proceeds to kill all of his other duplicates, gaining more strength each time, until he’s nearly unstoppable. After escaping capture, he sets out to kill the last duplicate, Gabriel. However, Gabriel has also been growing stronger and faster.
You know where this is heading, right?
The fight scenes here are all pretty impressive. Thankfully, they avoid being total ripoffs of The Matrix, mainly because Li can be a special effect in and of himself. On the other hand, I don’t think it lives up to its reputation as the so-called “next Matrix.” The movie’s main selling point is the final battle between Yulaw and Gabriel. Although it’s definitely enhanced by CGI, it’s still pretty darn cool to watch. The whole scene smacks a little of Terminator 2, with its industrial locale. Heck, the whole movie smacks of The Highlander. But none of that keeps it from being enjoyable. And if you have any concerns with the science behind the fiction, well, it’s nothing that hasn’t already fueled dozens of Star Trek episodes.
Li is pretty good here, almost to the point of being wasted. I was impressed by how well he pulled off the roles of both Yulaw and Gabriel; Yulaw is cold and brutal, whereas Gabriel is confused and alarmed at his growing powers and how they’ll affect his family and friends. Li portrays Yulaw with plenty of smarm, especially when he trounces pursuing policemen with their own motorcycles. Gabriel is genuinely likable, even when he’s kicking the crap out of Yulaw.
The big flaw is that there’s really nothing here that couldn’t be done by anyone else (martial arts aside). Getting to watch Jet Li is always a treat; the man exudes grace and beauty just walking. But I think I’ll wait until Zhang Yimou’s Hero comes out to see a movie that should show Li at his best. Any moderately-talented actor could’ve been used in this movie. Li was just an excuse to throw in a lot of wushu. It doesn’t surprise me that The Rock was originally cast as the lead, and it doesn’t surprise me that they could use Li, even though the two actors occupy different ends of the action spectrum. This is essentially a “just add actor” kind of flick, with plenty of special effects and sci-fi babble stirred in.
Of course, if that’s all you’re expecting, you won’t be disappointed. But then again, that kind of argument has been used to defend the careers of Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme I just hope that’s not where Li ends up.