There's certainly a place for "Matrix"-ish special effects in the realm of cinema, but there's also a time and place where the powers that be have to realize that there are stars out there who can do amazing things without the assistance of visual effects. Such is the case with Jet Li, a star who not only has strong screen presence, but incredible martial arts skill. This was most definitely present earlier this year when Li starred in French director Chris Nahon's "Kiss Of the Dragon", a film whose gritty atmosphere and beautifully filmed visuals highlighted a spectacular Li without the aid of special effects, but with the aid of some masterful choreography.
On the other hand, we now have "The One", from directors James Wong and Glenn Morgan, former "X-Files" writers. This is a distinct departure from the thrilling "Dragon"; essentially, what we have here is an 80 minute video game, peppered with average action, decent performances and rather weak dialogue. The film takes place in one version of our world in a "multiuniverse" - in other words, there's 124 other versions existing someplace else. Yulaw (Li) has discovered that when other versions of himself are taken out of the equation, he gains additional strength to the point where he has superhuman powers. He's now headed off to find the last of his doubles: Gabriel (Li), with multiuniverse agents Roedecker (Delroy Lindo) and Funsch (Jason Statham) after the evil version.
At 80 minutes, the film offers a few action sequences and a lot of cliched babble about what's currently going on in the story. It's quick though, and over before you know it, as it heads into a final fight between the two in a steel factory where the sparks, of course, fly. There's quite a good deal of opportunities that this kind of a plot could have ventured into, but it really doesn't seem to care.
It's been several days since I've seen this picture and I still ponder what makes this film so...so-so. There's really little plot or much interest in characters - "The One" is all about action scenes for the entire film, but suprisingly, the action sequences aren't that interesting, as the end remains obvious and there's little reason to care. The effects are sometimes impressive, but the rest of it remains so insubstancial that it's hard to care.
While "Kiss of the Dragon" wasn't a film without some flaws, it was such a well-crafted piece that I can't say there wasn't a moment that I wasn't tense throughout the running time of that picture. The strong, intimidating camerawork; the bold, remarkable presence of Li and his terrific stunts not assisted by effects. It was great, pure, all-out action to the level that I haven't seen in quite some time. "The One" is weak either way, but especially pales in comparison. Li is a terrific actor and talented martial artist and it's depressing to see him in pictures like "The One", where his talent doesn't seem to get a chance to really shine.
Action fans should be sure to seek out "Kiss of the Dragon" when it comes to DVD in January. "The One" may entertain some as a rental when it eventually comes to DVD, but "Dragon" is the one that is absolutely a must-see, especially given that Fox is including a commentary with Li, Bridget Fonda and director Nahon on the DVD of that film.