dir: James Wong
[img_assist|nid=1097|title=Blue is good, right? Do I need a doctor to have a look at it?|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=380|height=400]
People, by and large, watch television. Whilst watching television, they will often see commercials, being as that is the nature of the medium. These aren't necessarily the World's Funniest or Sexiest commercials, either. Quite often, those commercials will be seriously truncated theatrical trailers shortened for the gnat-like attention spans of the tv viewing audience, promoting the imminent release of another work of art
to us, the presumed great unwashed masses.
Often, but not always, a viewer could be forgiven for thinking, "Who in their right mind, based on this appalling trailer, would want to go and see this pile of drek? Who sees these films?" If there's anyone out there that has seen the commercials for The One, or Highlander 5 as I prefer to think of it as, on telly, and
wondered the same thing, solace is at hand. I have the answer for you. When pondering who watches these Desert Vampire Mars Ghost C grade sci fi shlockfests, know now that it is me. I am the audience they're aiming for, apparently because I'm there on opening day.
Even reading a stack of bad reviews the quantity of which combined together would result in a mass exceeding that of Roger "Spiderbaby" Ebert wasn't enough to dissuade me from paying my hard earned cash in order to bask in the glory of Jet Li's exponential decline as he tranforms from martial arts God to the
next Van Damme. In fact, I am virtually certain this film would initially have been offered to the Musclehead from Brussels, it has that odour of cheap nastiness that you associate with the star of such masterpieces as The Quest, Wrong Bet, the very McBain-sounding Sudden Death, and of course Time Cop. Perhaps Van Damme was too busy beating up one of his girlfriends to make it. Instead the illustrious makers of this stinker, Glen Morgan and James Wong of previous X Files acclaim decided to hitch the film's success on the rapidly declining 'star' power of Li Lien Jie, better known as Jet Li.
For those who don't know, Jet Li is a superb martial artist born in mainland China, winner of multiple martial arts titles, and has the dubious honour of having performed in front of the then President of the United States, Richard Nixon. Upon moving to Hong Kong he got involved in some of the most awe-inspiring fight
work ever choreographed in such films as Once Upon a Time in China parts 1-3 & 6, Fist of Legend, Last Hero in China, the Fong Sai Yuk films and the comical Swordsman II. He's been in films since the early 80's, so he knows his stuff when it comes to fighting. Acting, on the other hand is a completely different matter...
As with every lauded Hong Kong "legend", for every great film on their resume there's also ten stinkers filling out the roster. Jet's fortunes seem not to be improving, either. With the shift of talent from Hong Kong post-1997 to Hollywood, Jet has desperately tried to establish himself as a A rank action star. A look at the films he's been in since that move is downright depressing: Lethal Weapon 4, Romeo Must Die, Kiss of the Dragon, and now The One. Each has been worse than the last. As Jet's English improves, and he attempts more thesping for your dollar, so too have the films rapidly shown how few ideas anyone has about making decent action flicks these days.
The one thing I can say about The One that is positive is that Jet's English is now understandable by at least half of the audience. Apart from that, the film should never have gotten to a cinema, regardless of the special effects budget, which is all crap anyway. The characters are so underdeveloped, the script is so lame that it seemed to be put together by some pseudo- sentient Micro$oft screenwriting application, the action
is so ho-hum, that one has to wonder whether Jet Li is making his decisions on what films to be in based on the chaotic insane ramblings of a severed head in a glass jar. Seriously, it begs the question what the fuck any of the people in this film thought they were doing there.
Roedecker: This would never have happened if you'd followed procedure.
Funsch: (through gritted teeth) To hell with procedure! This procedure is bullshit! How the hell am I supposed to get the job done with my hands tied by procedure?
Roedecker: We have to follow procedure. Without procedure we're no better than (the criminal they are chasing)
Funsch: Procedure! (spits contemptuously).
I was expecting someone to say something about being "three days from retirement" or "I'm too old for this shit." Maybe the preceeding dialogue doesn't go exactly like that, but it sure as hell seemed that way.
A plot? You're asking for the plot? Well, if you want to be like that. Take a smattering of ideas from Sliders, Highlander, Trek, and gangbang videos, mash them all into a blender, and finally add the dubious concept of having a 'star' play multiple roles in your film, blend until the mixture has achieved a decidely diarrhea-like consistency, top it off with a generic metal-sounding score amped at ear-bleed volume, and make sure it's lukewarm prior to serving. Serves 4 to 400.
Apparently, ours is not the only universe. There are others co-existing alongside which are mostly replicas with minor variations. Put simply, any person here exists also in those other universes, living out similarly pathetic lives, deluding themselves with the futile search for meaning that leads nowhere. But enough about me. These multiple universes, let's call it a multiverse shall we, you'd think they'd be infinite, eh? Not so.
Our brilliant storytellers Wong and Morgan decide that 125 is a pleasantly rounded figure, ample enough to satisfy their desires for internal logic within their construction. They'd be better off looking for a particular needle in a stack of needles.
In one of these preeminent universes where they not only know about the multiverse, but both travel through and monitor travel between universes, Yulaw (played by Jet Li) finds that if he goes on a kill crazy rampage across the universes, killing all the other 'versions' of himself, he will become a god. There's some vague, mystical attempts at bringing Taoistic concepts of balance and the flow of energies into the proceedings, but it's about as genuine as one of my apologies.
Yulaw is bad. We know he is bad because he sneers all the time, and because we are introduced to him in a scene where he murders a version of himself in some random universe, a criminal called Lawless (played by Jet Li). Lawless waits in a prison cell, about to be transported elsewhere for something, perhaps bad language or for looking like a very bad facsimile of James Dean. Whilst waiting, to show that he is cool, he partakes in some sort of bizarre "Though I sit down, I am boogying" kind of Katherine Hepburnesque jitterbug. It was the craziest thing. Anyway, moments later Yulaw (played by Jet Li) kills him, so it doesn't
matter. Each time Yulaw kills a version of himself, he gets stronger, faster, and gets a bigger sneer on his face. He is chased by Roedecker (Delroy Lindo) and Funsch (Jason Statham), two multiverse cops who want to bring him to blah blah justice for his crimes blah blah.
You may remember Jason Statham from such delightful films as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, where he played Bacon and Turkish, respectively. Such a nice chap. What the fuck he is doing here is a mystery, a profound mystery, though since he was lucky enough to be in Ghosts of Mars as well, he's
obviously desperate for the work to keep up the Propecia payments. He truly comes across as a shite actor in this, mangled accent and all. But I don't blame him, or Delroy Lindo, whom I consider to be a fine actor as well. The woeful dialogue and pedestrian/dumb hoops that the script makes them jump through couldn't have been salvaged by Lawrence freaking Olivier.
They catch Yulaw (played by Jet Li) and are about to send him to an evil universe which is one big penal colony (hee hee) called the Hades Universe, when he contrives to escape one more time to go after the last version of himself, Gabriel Law (played by Jet Li), in presumably universe 124.
Gabriel Law (played by Jet Li) is the "good" guy. We know this because he is gentle as a kitten and loves his gweilo wife TK (Carla Gugino), and, in times of badness, has an expression frozen on his face that implies an ice dildo has just been inserted into A Bad Place.
Virtually, this is the plot. A bad version of Jet Li wants to kill the good version of Jet Li. A more intelligent or discerning version of Jet Li that rejected this script in the first place would have been far more preferable. Having heard that Jet Li actually rejected the lead (Mu Bai) role in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon tells me that it must be one of his pets that makes the important business decisions around the Li household.
This short (80 minute) film manages to feel like five hours worth. The Fellowship of the Ring went quicker, I kid thee not. The reason for that is the wafer thin plot is stretched out so painfully, so obviously, with no particular reason for continuing, so much so that you can smell the desperation of the filmmakers wafting off of the screen at you.
The saving grace of all stupid action films is meant to be the action. No matter the crapulousness of the plot, as long as there's decent fight scenes, you might get your money's worth. Here the action and fight scenes have been torn, spindled and mutilated with CGI to such an extent that you have to wonder why the fuck they even bothered asking someone with a martial arts background to even be in the film. What was the fucking point?
Case in point: Yulaw is running down a street. A cop car stops in front of him. The actor that used to play the token gay character on Melrose Place steps out of the cop car, asking Yulaw to kindly stop. Behind Yulaw, two cops on motorbikes speed towards him. He grabs the two motor bikes, sending the cops flying. He then proceeds to hit the cops with their motorbikes, before smashing the first cop in between the two bikes. Sounds funny doesn't it. Notice that wasn't a question. Also considering the over-emphasis on gunplay in the film, again you have to wonder what the fucking point of having your lead played by a guy that's been a martial arts maven since the age of 9 really is. How fucking stupid can these producers be? Is that a
redundant question again? The one decent fight in the entire film is still fucked up because of reasons I still can't fathom.
How hard is it to make a decent film with Jet Li? This is what you do, you clueless Hollywood dinguses: Get Jet in a room. Get a bunch of guys to attack him. Keep the camera on him as he beats several shades of fuck out of them. Edit in some amusing or funny dialogue, have a small amount of drama in it (maybe a close friend of Jet's is killed by the main bad guy), have him involved with some woman (in a completely platonic way, lest Jet's real life wife Nina castrate him), build up to some final brutal noble conflict at the end, The End, everybody's happy.
Don't use special effects to obscure the guy's natural abilities and talents. Don't have him piss-poor fighting or running for the film's entire fucking length (he can act, though he has a somewhat limited range). Jeez, it makes me angry.
The entire premise is entirely stupid, but even though it shouldn't matter, it certainly does. As Bad Jet gets to kill off the other Jet Li's, he gets supernaturally stronger. But so do the other Jet Li's. Can't you see the fundamental problem with this as a plot device? It does show how moderately more intelligent the makers of the original Highlander film are in comparison, where they did this sort of shit and did it right (not in any of the other films of course).
The patch of white on the Good Jet ring finger where his wedding ring used to be is used as a plot device twice times in the film. On the last occasion, it's used by a character to identify who the Good Jet is, preventing him from an eternity of torment. That character had no way of knowing, absolutely none at all, but isn't it great to have someone with the intellectual capacity of one of Pamela Lee Anderson's implants attending to the important continuity details?
This is the last example of woefulness that I shall reveal to you, oh faithful readers. In one scene, two cops enter a garage looking for some version of Jet Li, I forget which one. As they proceed in the darkness, they hear a sound and sense some movement. The suspenseful music builds, a flash of light, a lamp shakes, and suddenly, out of nowhere a cat springs forth. I kid you not, they even use that hoary old cliche. You could
not get more cliche, derivative and contrived in the one place at the one time, not even if someone was holding a motorbike to your head.
The sets, the locations, it makes you feel like you've just walked into a franchise Irish pub. When you see the insides of one of those pubs, you notice that in its (recent) construction or redevelopment, the 'stuff' they use to create atmosphere is the same in every franchise. Action films, martial arts films, they're a franchise too, the elements of which are kept in a similar storehouse as the furnishings for the Trademark O Reilly's Flanagan's type pubs. The difference is that you can still get decent pubs (Pugg Mahones in Carlton) and films
(Crouching Tiger, The Matrix) using these elements. Alternatively you can choose the worst elements from these identikits, and come up with shit like my local Irish franchise pub, complete with Ye Olde Irish fixtures, cockroaches, rude service and dirty pipes for the beer, or this film.
I still love Jet Li. I only hope that he pulls himself out of this slump and gets back to doing what he does best. I have heard that Zhang Yimou, master director of films such as Raise The Red Lantern, Ju Dou and Shanghai Triad, is completing a film called Hero at the moment, an epic blah blah bankrolled mostly because of the success of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
The cast list reads like a who's who of the better Hong Kong actors AND martial arts performers from the last ten, twenty years (Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, the delectable and fearsome Zhang Ziyi of Crouching Tiger and that recent Visa ad fame). Jet Li is also in one of the main roles. Hopefully this
represents a new hope for all the actors concerned, especially Jet. At least it might prevent these classy and dedicated actors from having to resort to 'working' in porn films, or, even worse, television.
This film, The One, sucks awfully. Don't bother. A chopstick through some sensitive bit of your anatomy will be more pleasant.
1 time that scene at the end of the film is the only semi-decent moment out of 10
I am Yulaw! Yulaw Is Nobody's Bitch!" - The One