There is more than one universel, there are many parallel universes, each of which contain a slightly different version of every person who has ever lived. Yulaw is a rogue agent from the Multiverse Bureau of Intelligence who has learned that, by traveling from one parallel universe to another and killing the alternate versions of himself, he gains his counterparts's strength, speed and intelligence. After killing one hundred and twenty-three parallel versions of himself, Yulaw has gained almost unstoppable power--and there is only one version of himself left, Gabriel Law, a Los Angeles cop. Yulaw travels to the universe that houses his nemesis, followed by a pair of agents intent on stopping him from killing Gabe and either gaining near-Godlike powers, or destroying the fabric of all existence.
Directed by: James Wong
. Starring: Jet Li
, Carla Gugino
, Delroy Lindo
, Jason Statham
, James Morrison
, Dylan Bruno
, Richard Steinmetz
, Steve Rankin
, Tucker Smallwood
, Harriet Sansom Harris
, David Keats
, Dean Norris
, Ron Zimmerman
. Music by: Trevor Rabin
These days, it seems every reviewer or would-be reviewer wishes to pigeon-hole the films they see, just as every would-be producer when they pitch their movie idea to the executives. Such is most reviews of THE ONE, in which the film is unfairly judged and summarized, as in "THE ONE is a combo of TERMINATOR plus MATRIX meets THE ELEPHANT MAN taking on JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR with a little PUMPKINHEAD and a dash of TICK TICK TICK!" Shut up already. It's a disgustingly pinheaded view of films, and not a review or comment on the film at hand, merely a summary of what it LOOKS like. Now to talk about THE ONE.
THE ONE is an impact film, meaning its nature is to physically overwhelm and inawe the viewer. Jet Li puts in some good work here, despite his difficulty with language barriers; Li does what many famous kung-fu movie stars are able to do, and that's to distinguish his emotions through his body, through physical ferocity or weakness. In that, Li is excellent here, showing at all times a human being behind the power of his techniques.
Most critics who do not respect the type of movie this is will completely miss Jet Li's presence behind the superhuman battles; that's why Yulaw, is the film's protagonist: It is Li's actor persona, Jet Li as a downright hero, that makes his turn as the villainous Yulaw so fascinating; there is not much difference between Yulaw and the good Li, Gabe, in our world, except Gabe is married and it is his love of his wife that fulfills him; without her, he would be Yulaw, a violent man hungering beyond time and space. Yulaw's desire to possibly become a god once he's accumulated all the life energies of his alternate selves is a realistic endeavor for a man such as he is: a special law-enforcement officer, a sublime martial artist, a physical man who spends every free moment practicing his wushu technique. A man obsessed with what he does not have: a center, a heart, a love.
This type of man WOULD be driven to assassinate his useless "other" selves, all wasted energy in a chaotic universe; Yulaw himself, once part of a superior police force to watch over not one but multitudes of universes, becomes a vicious, uncompromising killer...who also happens to be a martial artist, a life choice requiring vast degrees of self-control and regimented training...this kind of man would obviously see wasted energy as criminal, and his drive to accumulate and refocus that energy is not cardboard villainy but merely Yulaw's self-discipline taken to a cosmic scale. Yulaw doesn't want to be "God" in the classical sense, he just wants to elevate his internal and external fighter's prowess to the highest possible level imaginable...ultimately of course to feed his ego, which is Yulaw's fatal flaw.
There's a lot going on in this terse, lightning-fast plot, but it depends on what you're looking for. Jet Li's performance is typical of him and extraordinary as a human being: the man is simply a walking encyclopedia of fight technique. The non-superhuman roles, of his wife, or the pursuing Multiverse Agents Lindo and Statham, or the many many policemen (the film's major fault, too many police waving guns, all seeming buffoonish and crushable as roaches; too much of the movie has cops moving around with their pistols in front of them while we wait for the superhuman Yulaw to smash them, all of the viewers knowing the guns are useless against Yulaw and yet so much of the movie spent Wondering When rather than hoping anybody with a gun actually has a chance) all perform basic functions to the superhuman rumble between Yulaw and Gabe, bad and good Li.
Again, these characters have limited life-spans and short histories, and the fact remains that neither Yulaw nor Gabe has time to wonder who their friends are, or mourn for the dead. One man will die, another man will become The One, and that ascendancy is imminent and demanded by universal laws of space and time: theories, like objects, stay in motion...the obsessed Yulaw cannot halt his desired ascendancy to possible godhood (or destruction of all universes, since no one knows what will happen when he becomes The One), and neither can Gabe, who also grows more powerful as the life energy of 123 murdered alternate selves is divided equally between himself and Yulaw.
Last and not least, there's the final confrontation between Yulaw and Gabe. A very cool, very solid climactic fight that uses wire work but stays grounded in reality, albeit heightened superhuman reality; the fight never becomes a cartoon, thankfully, and as in the whole of the film, whatever cliches Roger Ebert mentions are few (all right, the whole cat-jumping-at-the-camera-to-startle-the-audience is downright unforgivable, but that's hackwork on the directorwriter's part) and there is nothing cliche about Li's performance, and given how badly science fiction's been translated to the screen, this film is at least not a complete embarrassment and doesn't pretend to be Arthur Clarke.
This is good work by Li. And though not everything not-Li (plot, characters, emotional resonance) is as cool as it could have been, THE ONE manages to be solid and avoids being insultingly stupid, a genre movie made by smart people who want nothing more than to blow viewer's minds with a workmanlike science fiction premise and the awesome skill of Jet Li. For the true lover of genre film, THE ONE is a grand delight.
Review by robotman-1 from the Internet Movie Database.