In one of those movies where the star plays a double role, (think Van Damme in Double Impact,) James wong's 2001 The One pits Jet Li against... Jet Li, Jet Li and Jet Li. And Jason Statham.
The film toys around with the whole 'parallel universe' thing as it tells the story of a man named Gabriel Yulaw (Jet Li) who used to work for a police agency called the MVA who can, for official police business, travel between these different universes. When Gabriel killed an alternate version of himself in an act of self defense, the other existing versions of himself became more powerful. Gabriel wasn't too happy about this so he spent some time hopping around universe's killing off his other selves until he was eventually captured by his ex-partner Roedecker (Delroy Lindo) and an MVA agent named Funsch (Jason Statham).
Of course, Yulaw escapes from prison and is bound and determined to kill his last 'self,' Gabe Law (Jet Li) who, as luck would have it, is a police officer with strength and ability equal to Yulaw's own. Roedecker and Funsch find themselves stuck with the unenviable task of having to find and stop Yulaw before he can kill Law because if they don't, there could be dire consequences, the least of which is Yulaw becoming invulnerable.
The idea for this one is, unfortunately, a lot stronger than the actual execution. The script and concept had some serious potential. This could have been a film that really let Jet Li milk his exceptionally cool screen presence for all it was worth, and in a sense, it does, but the story is flimsy - really flimsy - and the effects are so overdone that the film comes off as more of a cartoon at times than a live action martial arts/sci-fi picture. Had the effects work been a little more restrained and maybe a little more polished, the film would still have problems. Statham, as great as he can be, feels out of place here, his accent is hokey and he just doesn't work in the part. A decent supporting performance from Carla Gugino as Law's wife adds some welcome eye candy to the otherwise macho cast but she's really not given a ton to do in the film, unfortunately.
On top of that, a lot of the fight scenes are shot 'close in' which really detracts from them. Jet Li is a man with considerable martial arts ability - why not show it off? Instead, the camera gets in too close and essentially cuts them off. Opening up the camera would have shown us more, and let us appreciate more of the choreography. Instead, the close in shots hide the action from us. When the camera pulls out far enough to let us watch from a proper distance, the action works well, but unfortunately, this doesn't happen often enough.
There are moments that work. A coupe of the scenes where Li deals with Li are fun and as mediocre as the whole thing is, it's hard not to appreciate his efforts here. That said, once the principal plot is set up, the story is more or less tossed out the window in favor of a few of the aforementioned fight scenes. Granted, this is an action movie first and foremost so it makes sense that the filmmakers would put that aspect of the film in the forefront, but there just seems like they could have done a lot more with some of the ideas that they play with here. The result of all of this is that the film just feels wildly uneven. It never quite hits its stride and instead seems to cater to the lowest common denominator, covering up its shortcomings with goofy visual effects and choppy camerawork.
Aside from a few scenes that look a bit grainier than others, the 1080p AVC encoded 2.40.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks quite good. The black levels are strong, deep and stable and color reproduction looks quite lifelike and accurate, as do skin tones. Detail levels are quite strong throughout and there are no obvious problems with heavy edge enhancement or mpeg compression. Some mild shimmering is there if you want to look for it but aside from that, the transfer is pretty decent. Close up shots show a lot of detail that you wouldn't be able to pick out on the standard definition version while mid range and far away shots are stronger in definition and detail as well. There are a couple of spots where the HD transfer makes the effects look a bit dated but that's sometimes the nature of the best. Overall The One looks very good.
English, French and Portuguese language options are provided in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 while a standard definition Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is provided in Spanish. Optional subtitles can be found in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish. As far as the audio quality goes, the English TrueHD track is rock solid with strong bass and a nice, rich, layered soundscape. Dialogue stays clean and clear from start to finish and levels are properly balanced all around. The score has some nice ring to it and a fair bit of punch and directional effects are thrown about quite accurately during the action and fight scenes to add a fair bit of very welcome 'oomph' to the movie.
The extras from the standard definition version have been carried over to the Blu-ray release, which is a good thing, but they all appear here in SD, which is not so much a good thing. Regardless, what's here is decent, if familiar to fans of the film, starting off with commentary that features director James Wong, production designer David Snyder, editor Jim Coblentz and cinematographer Robert McLachlan. It's a fairly technical talk, as you probably imagine given the participants various functions, but it's not a bad discussion of the film. They cover a fair bit of ground and talk about some of the effects, the stunts, casting, MPPA requirements, and post production work. There's a bit of dead air now and again and it's a strangely unenthusiastic track but it does deliver a good bit of information about the movie.
Up next are a few featurettes starting with Jet Li Is The One (13:35) which a fairly general making of featurette that maybe puts a bit more emphasis on Li's work but which also covers contributions from a few other folks. Multiverses Create The One (18:45) showcases the film's special effects work and the efforts that went into the movie's fight scenes. This is actually a fair bit more interesting than you might guess as it shows us some decent behind the scenes footage and offers up some interesting cast and crew interviews as well. About Face (5:55) is a glimpse into how effects were used to put Jet Li's face on the bodies of a few stunt doubles while The Many Faces Of Jet Li (2:02) is a short but amusing look at Li's different 'versions' seen in the movie.
Closing out the extra features is an Animatic Comparison (1:15), some animated menus, and chapter selection. The disc is also Blu-ray Live enabled.
The One is a pretty dopey misfire, but it does have its fans and they'll appreciate the improved audio and video that is instantly noticeable on this Blu-ray release even if it doesn't bring anything new to the table in terms of extra features. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.