The One Review
Ever since The Matrix “raised the bar” as producer Joel Silver put it, action films have had to be louder, faster and more special effects laden than ever before. Action scenes can no longer be “real”; they have to be bigger than life. So it was inevitable that when Jet Li moved from Hong Kong to Hollywood, his martial arts skills would be put to use in such movies. The first Hollywood film he appeared in was Lethal Weapon 4, playing the bad guy (also a first for him). And here we have The One, where he plays the good guy, the bad guy, and everyone else in between.
The story here involves the discovery that there is not one universe; rather there are multiple parallel universes that are linked to form a “Multiverse”. Movement between these universes is policed by an agency known as the MVA. When one of its agents – Yulaw (Jet Li) - discovers that after killing an alternate version of himself in another universe that it has made him stronger, he goes on a power crazed tour of all 125 parallel universes to eliminate every other version of himself. After killing Lawless (Jet Li again) he is apprehended by MVA agents Roedecker (Delroy Lindo) and Funsch (Jason Statham), but quickly escapes and heads for the last surviving version of himself, Gabe Law (Jet Li again). If he kills Gabe he may become invincible – or he may destroy the fabric of the entire Multiverse. Will he be caught in time?
When you read many reviews for films such as this, you often see the expression “check your brain at the door”, which I would whole-heartedly agree with here. However, I’ll be a bit more specific about the things you don’t have to worry about:
1. Plot Logic
As with practically every movie involving concepts like time travel, parallel universes and the like, don’t spend too much time analysing it, or else it just falls apart. Why are there only 125 Universes and not an infinite number? If there are different versions of the same people inhabiting these universes, but they lead different lives and meet different people, surely within one generation each universe would have a completely different set of inhabitants? Why has only one Universe established the MVA? Try to apply Stephen Hawking style logic to all this and it all goes wrong. Just ignore it and enjoy the ride.
2. Character development and acting
Everyone here does enough acting for what is required in this movie. With action from the first frame to the last frame and pretty much no let up on the way, all you need to know is who everyone is, what they do, whether they’re good or bad, then let them get on with it. Is anyone’s performance good, bad, underused? With the story running at such a break-neck pace, it doesn’t really matter. Even Jason Statham’s frankly bizarre stab at an American accent. It just doesn’t matter.
3. Story development and complexities
There’s a good Jet Li. There’s a bad Jet Li. They have to fight each other. Over the course of a very brief one hour twenty (a long end credit roll puts it really at less than one hour fifteen) that’s all you need to know.
If you don’t worry about any of the previous things, then you will probably enjoy this action-fest, as it is a lot of fun and well made. James Wong’s direction is spot on for the type of film that it is, drawing you in and not giving you the chance to let go. Action sequences are well staged and avoid the unnecessary quick cuts that are so often seen in movies of this genre. Some new special effects techniques were used for a number of scenes, involving participants moving at different speeds, which works effectively. However, those who probably won’t enjoy the fight scenes are martial arts purists who are fans of Jet Li’s earlier Hong Kong movies. If you are then you will probably be annoyed by the way that his supreme skills are “enhanced” by special effects. Like The Matrix and indeed previous Jet Li Hollywood product like Romeo Must Die, practically all the fight sequences are so far reworked by the use of wires and CGI that they no longer need a martial arts master to perform them – it’s all done in “post”. Indeed, the first choice of star for this movie was The Rock (who dropped out to do The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King movies). Why do they do manipulate these sequences? Well, the simple answer is that they can, the technology is now available to make these things look convincing. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better for it.
In summary, if you value such things as plot logic and character development in your movies, don’t bother with The One. If you like your martial arts pure and untainted by special effects, don’t bother with The One. But if you are happy to enjoy a fast-paced, well made, fun piece of escapist nonsense, then it’s well worth an hour and a bit of your time.
This film is presented anamorphically in a 2.35:1 ratio. As the movie runs through a period of night into day then many of the earlier scenes are quite dark, but are nonetheless clear and hold together well. For switching into different universes, the filmmakers used different colour tints for each, and on the commentary they all state that they were happy that this DVD reproduced them correctly. The outstanding scene visually is during the climactic fight sequence when a sea of sparks rain down on the Jet Li(s), which looks extremely impressive.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track makes plenty of use of all the channels, whether it is for the multitude of sound effects or the very loud and pounding rock soundtrack. The movie itself was also recorded in DTS, which if added here would certainly have given the explosions a bit more punch. Alas, the Dolby Digital is all we have, but it is decent enough, though not outstanding.
There is a fair selection of extras to get through here, including:
The commentary is by director James Wong, production designer David Snyder, cinematographer Robert McLachlan and editor Jim Coblentz. Being a group of people responsible for the look and feel of the movie it is understandably a fairly technical commentary. They talk about the filming techniques, from the most advanced special effects down to the most basic stuff, but also mention why the film was quite short (budget), some talk about deleted scenes (which haven’t appeared here), trimming scenes of violence (to get a lower rating) and what the film might have looked like if original star The Rock had appeared. All in all, it’s a lively and interesting commentary that never descends into just describing what is happening on screen. Worth a listen.
(French subtitles are available for the commentary).
The first of the featurettes is Jet Li is The One. This could be considered the main featurette and runs for nearly 14 minutes. It has the usual interviews with cast and crew, and the behind the scenes stuff that we have come to expect from these promo pieces. It also looks at Jet Li’s fighting styles – different for the good and bad versions of himself, and discusses how the fighting scenes would have been very different if The Rock had starred. As a standard promo, it’s a little bit better than the norm.
More interesting is Multiverses create The One which runs for 19 minutes. This concentrates on the fight sequences and how they were put together. At the heart of the sequences is obviously Jet Li’s natural ability, but this shows how they are inevitably enhanced with the use of wires and CGI. The composition of some of the CG scenes is also delved into, as well as a look at some more of the other stunt work.
The six minute featurette About Face looks at the scene where Jet Li fights himself. The special effect of actors fighting themselves is nothing new – examples from the earliest days of film can be found – but the techniques used here are distinctly new. Because of the contact between the two combatants it was not possible to layer two versions together, so more advanced techniques involving superimposing Jet Li’s face onto another person were used. A short but very interesting featurette.
During the trial scene where Yulaw is accused of killing many other versions of himself in other universes we see a few images of Jet Li in some crazy outfits and looks (Sven Law being a prime example). To get a better look at these, the two minute The many faces of Jet Li does a quick run through, including many not seen in the film itself.
The animatic comparison features a split screen view of the motorcycle fight sequence. The upper image is the finished shot, the lower image a combination of CG animatics and a rather comical looking toy version that was used as the original scene-building tool.
There are five theatrical trailers here, one for this movie, and the rest for The 6th Day, A Knight’s Tale, Hollow Man and The Thirteenth Floor. All feature Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, and The One, Knight’s and Hollow are presented anamorphically.
Finally, there are two easter eggs lurking within the two menus of extra material. These are a little tricky to locate, so I won’t spoil the challenge of finding them. The first is a Jet Li interview talking about when he first came to America and made the transition to Hollywood movies. This runs for just under three minutes. Secondly is Mark Borchardt was in The One with Jet Li. This four minute piece features American Movie star Borchardt talking about his cameo in the movie, and he then plugs his own stuff.
Given that this is a high-tech movie and that the official website has a sophisticated Flash-based set up, it would have been reasonable to expect that it would have been reproduced here. But alas, there is no ROM content on the disc at all.
If you are looking for a slick, high adrenaline all-action comic strip movie with just enough plot to hold it together, then you’ve come to the right place. The disc looks very good, sounds reasonably good, and has a decent selection of extra material. For action fans (though not martial arts purists), worth a look.