The One (2001)

"What if you learned the most dangerous man in the universe...was you."

Directed by James Wong
Starring Jet Li

    There are many universes, a multiverse, and travel between them is possible. Yulaw (Li), a dimension hopping former operative of the Multiverse Agency (MVA) seeks to kill 124 alternate versions of himself, in order to become 'The One'; a source of order and rationality, and the ultimate power in the multiverse. Each time he kills one of his other selves, he absorbs some of their vital energy, becoming stronger, faster, and more able to fight funky battles using cool bullet-time SFX.

    His final target is Gabe Law (also Li), an LA Deputy Sheriff. Gabe is a decent guy, and a badass martial artist, and like Yulaw has been growing stronger each time one of his selves is killed. With two MVA operatives also tracking down Yulaw, Gabe just wants to live his life. But then Yulaw kills Gabe's wife, and Gabe must face himself in a final battle, to determine who will be the One.

    Um...Except he doesn't. They fight, go back to MVA HQ, from where Yulaw is sent to a penal colony and Gabe to an alternate dimension where the woman he married is still alive (although 'he' presumably isn't).

What's wrong with it?

    Most of The One's flaws come down to sloppiness. It is never explained how Yulaw managed to get his first 123 kills without repeatedly breaking into and/or escaping from the MVA facility, nor why 124 is somehow the magic number. Surely in a multiverse of infinite possibilities, there are more than 125 Jet Lis? Not only are these things not adequately explained, the film never assays any explanation for them at all, not even a bad one.
    The film's climax is also deeply...well, anticlimactic. In the end, no-one becomes the One, and we are left with a tacked on 'king of the hill' scene, with Yulaw establishing his dominance of the prison world. We never get to see what would have happened if Gabe became the One, and while he presumably gets to live happily ever after, it rings false that the guy who loved his wife so very much could just go and live with an identical her from another universe, without being plagued by the knowledge that he had already watched her die once.

What's right with it?

    The One's kung fu is strong. The flow-mo work is superb, the choreography smooth and flowing, and when Jet Li fights himself at the end, the film-makers have bothered to make a difference between the two, by giving Yulaw and Gabe radically different combat styles (Yulaw is all brutal power, Gabe flowing motion). Jet Li is a charismatic actor, even if he does struggle a little with the English script from time to time. It also has few pretensions of being more than it is; a fairly silly sci-fi adventure.

How bad is it really?

    Not bad exactly, more disappointing, and in the end a little unsatisfying. It just feels as though with a very little more effort - giving us a few explanations and a proper conclusion for starters - the film could have been so much better.

Best bit?

    The final conflict between Gabe and Yulaw, with the two Jet Lis flawlessly blended into each single shot, and highlighting the difference in their styles; a rare thing in a western kung fu movie.

What's up with...?


Production values - Corking. The two Jets are seamless, and the flow-mo not only well done, but a little bit different from The Matrix, with various elements of the shot running at different speeds. 3

Dialogue and performances - Not bad, but not great either. The expository dialogue is a little lacking, but at no point feels so forced as in many movies. The rest is competent, but not really anything to write home about; the film has no particularly memorable quotes. The acting is good, but again not great. Delroy Lindo as the senior MVA agent takes the Laurels, largely because Li is working in a foreign language. Voice-over guy at the beginning, who lays out the multiverse stuff for us, is the biggest let-down, and is nowhere near as convincing as Patrick Stewart or James Earl Jones. 7

Plot and execution - Sadly sloppy. Most of The One's serious flaws come from simple carelessness in this area. The exposition is incomplete, and more importantly its holes could fairly easily have been filled if someone had just taken the time to do so. The direction however is good, and the fight work especially impressive. 12

Randomness - There is a little randomness, but not as much as in many films of this type. There is no use of the dimension-hopping as a convenient deus ex machina, or any unexplained time travel or other drastic changes of the rules. There is the mouse bomb, and of course Scandinavian Sven Law, but that's about it. 9

Waste of potential - I'm in two minds on this one. On the one hand, it does feel that with a little more effort this could have been a superb movie, instead of just a decent one. On the other, it was originally written as a vehicle for The Rock, and while I haven't seen The Scorpion King yet... Oh well, so it could have been better, but could have been a lot worse. 11

Overall 40%


Guardian (2000)

Directed by John Terlesky
Starring Mario van Peebles and Ice-T

    During the Gulf War, Marine Recon officer John Kross (Peebles) locates an Iraqi missile site-cum-archaeological dig, where an American archaeologist and his pregnant wife are excavating the sarcophagus of Tel-al, to the horror of his wise old friend back home. The Iraqis are also removing jars of some valuable pink dust from the site. The moon turns red, the archaeologist's wife has a baby and one of the Iraqi soldiers starts shouting about a prophecy and opens fire on the dig. The archaeologist is killed, and various soldiers start cackling wildly - almost as though they were possessed. Kross is shot, sees a mysterious veiled woman stealing the baby and coming at him with a knife, and wakes with weird cuts all over his body.

    Flash forward, and Kross is a detective investigating a new drug called Chaos, distributed by king pin Max (a very overbilled Ice-T) which turns people into homicidal killers. When Max is killed by a woman named Selene, who has a reverb-y voice and jumps off high buildings, things start going strange.

    The woman tells Max to find the wise old friend, and it is explained to him that the demon Telal is coming to kill the boy who was born in that desert - who is destined to become a prophet and reunite Judaism, Christianity and Islam - and that it is Kross' destiny to stop it. They have to get Telal into a new sarcophagus, carved with the same symbols as Kross' body - and have David pray over him at a particular time - during a total lunar eclipse in Iraq.

    Telal possesses Kross' partner - natch - and frames him for murder. Selene - some manner of good demon it seems - springs him and they flee. She is killed, Kross forces Telal to possess him, and thus traps him in his body, which has the same symbols as the sarcophagus, see. Then he jumps off a building.

    Oh, and this somehow brings his wife out of a coma, but that's really incidental.

What's wrong with it?

    The plot is not exactly original, borrowing elements from all over the shop: The unstoppable thing coming after the child; the body-hopping demon etc. Most of the acting isn't up to much and the dialogue is nothing to write home about either. The whole production has an air of mediocrity, which is somehow accentuated by the very limited use of flow-mo - in the scene where the leather-trousered Selene runs up a wall, grabs someone's gun and shoots someone else with it, no less - which only serves to invite unfavourable comparison with The Matrix.
    Ice-T's appearance is bizarre, and he pretty much just plays his stage persona. Frankly, even he has been in better, but more than that he's hardly in it, making it strange that he's up there with 'Super' Mario in the credits.
    You can also pretty much call every plot 'twist', and sit secure in the knowledge that if you had to save the world you could do it better than John Kross.

What's right with it?

    'Super' Mario is at the top of his game here, which is pretty much damning with faint praise, but there you go.

How bad is it really?

    Guardian is a grinding mediocrity. It's not even bad enough to be really funny.

Best bit?

    Kross stands in front of a wall with the graffiti: "Jesus is coming". Before his eyes, it morphs to say: "Telal is here". That's pretty neat.

What's up with...?


Production values - Limp. Not bad, just uninspiring. 12

Dialogue and performances - Not everyone in this film is bad. van Peebles is on top form as the grammatically correct copper, and many people look to be phoning it in, rather than being crap, per se. 16

Plot and execution - Between The Terminator, The Crow and Fallen, there's barely an aspect of this plot that hasn't been done better. The directing is not Albert Pyun bad, but isn't very good either. 15

Randomness - The random element in Guardian comes largely from the fact that no one can be bothered to explain things properly. Does Telal need to possess David? We're told he just needs to kill him, so why not hurl him off the tower then slope off to remove the markings from Kross' body with a disc sander? There's more where that came from too: Who is Selene, really? What is going on here? 18

Waste of potential - Could have been done better. Not much better, but better. 12

Overall 73%


Storm Riders (1998)

Directed by Wai Keung Lau
Starring Aaron Kwok and Ekin Cheng

    Lord Conquer of the Conqueror Clan is busy a conquering, when his adviser, Mud Buddha, gives him a two part prophecy. The first part is that he must find two boys to make his apprentices, called Cloud and Wind, and they will help him to rule the world. The second part is hidden in a funky puzzle-box.

    Conquer battles the warrior Whispering Prince, to try and take his sword, 'Blizzard Blade', but Prince is killed by a flame beast and the sword lost. Conquer takes the man's son, Striding Wind, as his apprentice. Then Conquer has a swordsmith killed in the search for his masterpiece, 'Life's Best Sword', but it is hidden. instead, Conquer takes the man's son, Cloud. He also has a third apprentice, Frost, and a daughter, Charity.

    Twenty years later, Wind is a nice boy, Frost a bit of a tough guy, and Cloud a moody loner with purple hair. All three are in love with Charity, and she's seeing Cloud on the sly. They get sent out on various missions, and strut their funky kung fu stuff. Each knows one of Conquer's special kung fu styles: Wind knows the Wind Kick, which allows him to create small tornadoes; Frost has the Frost Fist, which lets him freeze opponents; and Cloud - the strongest of the three - has Cloud Palm, which lets him manipulate water with the power of his mind and use it as a form of attack.

    There's some killing and a little fuing, and Conquer learns from Mud Buddha that Cloud and Wind are destined to bring him down. He announces Charity's marriage to Wind, and when Cloud comes to claim her instead, tries to grease them both while they fight. But Charity takes the shot and dies, and Cloud takes her body away, steals the Frost Vigour from some poor luckless clan (as you do), and takes her to a mortuary. There he is attacked by Conquer and loses an arm.

    Conquer tries to have Wind killed, but instead Wind eats the good drugs, reclaims his father's sword and kills the Flame Beast. He learns of Conquer's treachery from Mud Buddha - or was it Frost who learned that; it's unclear - and gets all riled up. Meanwhile, Cloud gets his lost arm replaced by the Flame Beast Arm of All-Heal Yu (as you do), and comes gunning for Conquer himself.

    Conquer fights Sword Saint in a duel, and is almost killed, but All-Heal Yu's dim daughter prods Sword Saint's body while his astral spirit is bringing the shit, and he explodes (as you do).

    Cloud and Wind battle their former teacher. Cloud's blood unlocks the hiding place of 'Life's Best Sword', and they beat him down and leave him broken and defeated.

    The end.

What's wrong with it?

    Well, aside from the fact that great swathes of the plot are incomprehensible, and that the characters are mostly unlikeable for one reason or another, there is just no kung fu in this kung fu movie. In the great tradition of Zu: Warriors From the Magic Mountain, Storm Riders is an SFX fest, with firebolts, chi balls and water darts flashing everywhere, but very little in the way of actually kicky, punchy, sword-fighty goodness in sight. With the digital effects and the choppy editing, Storm Riders actually plays out more like a western attempt at a kung fu movie - Big Trouble in Little China, say - than a serious kicking movie.
    The film is populated by unpleasant people: Cloud is a moody psychopath, Charity a complete scrubber - Wind actually says that he won't marry her if she loves one of the others, but she figures she can marry him and still fool around with Cloud - and Wind a big drip. In all, it's hard to truly say that Cloud is any better than Conquer, and Wind just isn't very interesting. All-Heal Yu of the Flame Beast Arm is pretty sorted, but his daughter is just annoying. 
    Anyone at all sympathetic seems to exist purely to suffer. Mud Buddha is tormented by boils and sores; the son of the Unchallenged City finds his people butchered by Cloud, seeks justice and is killed; Sword Saint gets to be all bad-ass, but then poofs because the annoying bint prods him; Frost is a genuine nice guy, if a little wild, and just gets royally shafted; the family who own the Frost Vigour only turn up so that Cloud can beat them with a coffin, throw an arrow through a pregnant woman's chest and steal their family treasure. The list is endless.
    And there's a whole bunch of cheesy Canto-pop music, and lots of long dull scenes where nothing happens.

What's right with it?

    A few of the CGI'd fights are pretty good, and some of the supporting cast are decent. The mysterious and bad-ass Shaolin is good, and Sword Saint is just the shit until he gets prodded.

How bad is it really?

    Storm Riders is a tedious action movie, and a kung fu movie with next to no kung fu. It's not the worst film in the world, but frankly it plays like an overlong anime epic, especially with Cloud and his purple hair, and Wind's flowing girly locks and frankly effeminate bearing. What makes it worse is that the film has been heavily hyped as 'better than Crouching Tiger'. It's not, and furthermore goes to show that what makes Crouching Tiger good is not that it's just like they make them in China.
    Perhaps this film would go down better in its homeland. Not being Chinese I can't tell, but for my money, it's just not that special.

Best bit?

    Conquer follows Cloud to the mausoleum, knowing that in the desert where it is housed, his Cloud Palm kung fu will be useless. After Conquer pulverises his left arm, Cloud gets desperate, and rips his arm clean off so that he can use his own blood to do the Cloud Palm and escape.

What's up with...?


Production values - Fairly spiffy, but all in all, not much more impressive than the far cheaper SFX in Zu Warriors. The music is dire, but might be okay if you liked Canto-pop. 10

Dialogue and performances - Difficult to know without speaking the language. The subtitled dialogue however was simply confusing, and often mistyped, and the leads did not come across as particularly charismatic. Might have worked better in the original Cantonese. 14

Plot and execution - The plot wanders like the condensed version of a twenty-seven hour TV mini-series, and indeed one gets the feeling this may be cut-down from a longer and less confusing effort. As it is, it's baffling, and little attempt is made to help the audience along. 16

Randomness - Oh yes. All the usual kung fu weirdness is here. People say things like: "To find Mud Buddha, seek Fire Monkey", and no-one bats an eyelid. Whole swathes of stuff goes unexplained, such as where All-Heal Yu got his Fire Beast Arm in the first place. All in all; 'huh'? 18

Waste of potential - Again, it is difficult to judge, but the story is a classic, and frankly the film would have been much better if only the SFX had enhanced the kung fu, instead of replacing it altogether. 14

Overall 72%