The One

| November 8, 2001

Cool fighting…a prize of immense power…actors who haven’t quite mastered English pronunciation. Highlander fans and Jet Li fans unite for some popcorn-and-nachos fun with James Wong’s The One.
I must admit to a certain giddy sense of excitement surrounding the release of The One ever since the first time I saw its trailer. It looked, for all the world, like a retooled stab at some of the same ideas that made the original Highlander film so much fun–an improvement on the original idea, in fact. Immortals battling each other throughout the ages for The Prize is good stuff, to be sure, but I was even more excited at the prospect of watching various facets of one basic existence fight each other for the right of claiming all of that existence’s life-force. Good stuff, that.
Well, The One is okay. It’s entertaining, if not thought-provoking; good, if not great. After learning that The One was originally to star pro wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, it was hard not to let my gratitude regarding the change in casting bleed over into my overall impression of the film.
We’re told via voiceover only moments into The One that the world we know is but one of many in a multi-verse consisting of dozens upon dozens of differing universes. What’s more, each of us has a counterpart in each of the other universes. All of a person’s “incarnations” share a common life-force. Any time one of them dies, the newly released energy is split among the surviving incarnations. This life-force is nothing to write home about when it’s split 100 or 200 ways, but if a single one of the incarnations were to take it all for himself…whoa, Nelly!
That’s the premise of The One. Jet Li plays an identity’s two remaining incarnations. One incarnation, Yulaw, has skulked from universe to universe, dodging the security force established to police inter-universal travel, and hunting down over one hundred of his fellow incarnations for their energy. The other incarnation, sheriff’s deputy Gabriel Law here on our version of Earth, can’t explain why he’s gradually been getting stronger, faster and smarter–and has no idea that other incarnations exist, let alone that one of them is on his way to murder him and become The One.
The casting is pretty formulaic. Jet Li’s kicking ass left, right, and center. Delroy Lindo and Jason Statham play Roedecker and Funsch, two multi-verse cops–and if I have to tell you which one is the paternal, by-the-books cop and which one is the roughneck cop, you haven’t been watching nearly enough movies. Carla Gugino plays T.K., Gabriel’s doting wife. He keeps mentioning how she’s the only thing in his life that completes him, gives him a sense of focus, et cetera, but she doesn’t play nearly an important enough role in either the plot or in his life to convince the audience of that fact. Instead of reiterating that which we can see for ourselves, it always feels like he’s trying to convince us.
The fight scenes are fun, with Matrix-style bullet-dodging and fights between normal-speed cops and super-fast Yulaw, but nobody would have complained had there been a few more of them. I had to chuckle when Yulaw inexplicably tore off the top portion of his jumpsuit right before his final battle with Gabriel Law at some industrial plant (of course) so that we could keep track of which Jet Li for whom we should root. Again, one has to wonder about what sort of fighting would have been used in The One had they actually gone ahead with The Rock as the lead character. To my knowledge, he’s no martial arts whiz, and I don’t think pro wrestling moves would have lent themselves well to this plot.
The biggest problem I had with The One was the logic of its premise–survivors divvying up the essence of the deceased versions of oneself. In every case, wouldn’t we be left with an über-octogenarian, shedding his now-superfluous hearing aids and walker and punching his way to freedom through the walls of his convalescent home? If all the different incarnations of a single identity were spread out over a longer period of time (if all 127 of Jet Li’s character weren’t all born on the same date, say), it would allay some of that break in logic, but no such explanation was given.
The One is only 87 minutes long, so it’s not as if a more thorough exploration of some of the ideas and questions raised the plot would have lengthened the film into some ponderous three-hour snoozefest. Then again, the idea may very well have been to get the folks out of the theaters before they had enough time to start questioning what they were seeing.

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