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Film / The One

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"There is not one universe, there are many; a multiverse. We have the technology to travel between universes. The travel is highly restricted and policed. There is not one... you, there are many. Each of us exists in present time in parallel universes. There was balance in the system, but now a force exists who seeks to destroy the balance so that he can become... The One."

An action movie from 2001, starring Jet Li and Jet Li with Jet Li in a minor role, born in the wake of the Matrix-inspired Bullet Time craze, directed and co-written by James Wong.

The story takes place in a multiverse composed of 125 parallel worlds. In the backstory, Gabriel Yulaw, a former interdimensional law enforcer, is forced to kill one of his other selves in self defense. This action accidentally leads him to discover that when this happens, the life energy of the slain self is redistributed among the surviving versions of that person, making them stronger and faster. Soon afterward, he drops out of the force and begins actively hunting down all his alternate selves in order to become the most powerful being in existence. He makes it to 123, and only a single target prevents him from becoming... the One.

There is not one trope... there are many.

  • All There in the Manual: The movie's now defunct official website included a lot of background material. In it, it revealed that Yulaw was not the first to try this trick. There were at least two other interdimensional criminals who went around killing doubles. One of them did it for someone else.
  • Alternate Universe: Inherent in the concept of the multiverse; various scenes are set in 4 of them, not counting the glimpses of even more versions of the "Law" character. What's less obvious is that Gabe's universe, which the film spends most of its time in and appears to be our universe, is also an alternate one from ours, based on President Bush's liberal policies shown on a TV (which is otherwise unrelated to the plot).
  • Ambition Is Evil: Yulaw. At least, when his ambition is to become a Physical God and defy the normal laws of physics in the multiverse. It doesn't help when Funsch suggests that completing the killings could very well destroy the universe the last killing took place in or, possibly, the whole multiverse.
  • Apocalypse How: Because Yulaw and Gabe are the only two remaining versions of themselves left, if either one of them dies before the other, many speculate that the "energy imbalance" would destroy the universe they're in, or even the entire multiverse. On the other hand Yulaw hopes it would make him a Physical God — which could be its own form of apocalypse, depending on how benevolent he'd decide to be.
  • Armor Is Useless: Surprisingly averted. All of the armor worn by SWAT team members in both universes deflects bullets impressively well; the armor worn by the SWAT leader escorting Lawless is even shown deflecting a dozen bullets during a slow-motion sequence, and the officer is just in pain, not killed. When Yulaw shoots anyone with his pistol, he generally has to aim for limb shots to put anyone down (save the oddly-unarmored multiversal police).
  • Autobots, Rock Out!: Papa Roach's "Blood Brothers" plays in the climactic fight...and it's awesome.
  • Badass Normal:
    • Roedecker. He's an ordinary human (or at least as ordinary as any multiverse enforcement officer) who is able to go toe-to-toe with Yulaw and fight evenly with him for about a minute and a half. According to the now-defunct official website, Roedecker is ex-Secret Service in his home Alpha Universe (the MVA HQ).
    • Funsch lasts the second longest after him. Presumably, being LAPD in Beta Universe's crapsack version of Los Angeles helps.
  • Badass Boast: Yulaw's speech at the end:
    Yulaw: I am Yulaw! I'm nobody's bitch. You are mine. I don't need to know you. You only need to know me. I will be The One!
  • Bait-and-Switch: The scene in Gabe's universe begins the same way as in Lawless' universe. Only the prisoner being transferred is a completely different person, a snitch who's being taken to another prison for his safety. With Gabe as one of the cops helping with the transfer.
  • Battle in the Rain: Played with rather awesomely. Gabe and Yulaw dish it out for the last time... under a rain of sparks (they were in a factory).
  • Bifurcated Weapon: The movie begins with two very similar scenes of a prisoner being transferred, each in another universe. The cops' equipment is one of the differences; in the first scene, their rifles have attached shotguns.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Yulaw is finally subjugated and sent to the Hades Universe for his crimes and, though Gabe lost his wife and has been framed for her murder in his dimension, Funsch sends him to a seemingly happy, colorful universe where Los Angeles is "America's Cleanest City", and meets that world's version of T.K. the same way he did in his native universe.
  • Bluff the Impostor
    T.K.: That first time we met at the bookstore, did you ever imagine we'd end up in a mess like this?
    Yulaw: Even if I had known, I still would have done it.
    T.K.: [turns the gun on Yulaw] It wasn't a bookstore.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: For Yulaw, who is left fighting basically everyone on the prison planet. Since he's invincible, presumably they would yield at some point and just let him be the boss.
  • Buddy Cop Show: While not a TV show, Funsch and Roedecker have the usual Cowboy Cop and By-the-Book Cop relationship dynamic.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Somewhat justified because the human shield was wearing a bulletproof vest.
  • Bullet Time:
    • Yulaw fights at a much higher speed than normal human opponents, so he's able to beat the ever-living crap out of six SWAT officers before they even hit the ground. He then runs away from cop cars who clock him at 50 mph.
    • The final fight features both Yulaw and Gabe going into this mode for a good portion of the fight, as sparks from damaged factory machinery slowly fall around them.
  • Car Fu: Yulaw literally wields two police motorcycles like clubs and beats the living daylights out of the unfortunate cops who rode them mere seconds ago.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The mark left on Gabe's finger by his wedding band.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu:
    • In-universe, and very literally, as conservation of life force. Every version of a person within each of the 125 universes is tethered to a unique "string" or "energy wave" that connects all of them to each other. Every time a single multiverse counterpart of a person dies, their portion of the energy is equally distributed among the remaining other versions. With each energy boost, the attributes of those individual remaining counterparts become marginally enhanced making them stronger, smarter, faster and, overall, more powerful. Thus, by the time there are only two left, both are essentially superhuman.
    • Also invoked at the ending, where Yulaw's apparent penalty is to fight wave after wave of inmates in a penal dimension that seems to be swarming with them.
    • It's implied that any death results in that person's doubles becoming stronger, but given the wide variety of universes, it's highly unlikely for many to die at once, so the incremental changes are barely noticed. And if someone's doubles all die of old age, that person is likely to be too infirm to make much use of the energy.
  • Crapsack World:
    • It's implied by Roedecker that Funsch's home universe is one, although his biography on the official website implies that the Beta Universe isn't that bad. It's just that Funsch was LAPD, and that 'verse's LA is a crapsack city, where everyone is, apparently, a "combatant."
    • The Hades Universe appears as a textbook example of one. Dumping prisoners into it probably doesn't help.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas:
    • After Gabe Law finally subjugates Yulaw, he is dumped on a world like this as a "reward" for his services, largely because he is now a wanted felon with no family in his home universe.
    • It might also be suggested that the Alpha Universe, in which the Multiverse Authority is headquartered, could be like this as well. According to the official site, the Alpha Universe isn't much different from any other, except for the presence of quantum tunneling tech (the only universe to develop it) that allows interdimensional travel. While it does have a political and economic effect on some, it largely does not affect the vast majority of people. For example, one of the interdimensional criminals heads a mercenary squad that hides out in another universe and participates in conflicts in the Alpha Universe, using an illegal quantum tunneling device, when someone pays for their services.
  • Curbstomp Battle: Yulaw is a superhumanly strong and fast martial artist. Naturally, any fight between Yulaw and a normal human is completely one-sided in the former's favor (excepting Roedecker). Yulaw himself is on the receiving on of this from Gabe in the second round of their climactic battle.
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: Yulaw steals a van to escape from the hospital, only for Roedecker's gun to emerge from the rear area at the first traffic light.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Lawless. He's played by Jet Li, so the natural assumption from anyone who'd seen the trailer would be that he's either the hero or the villain. Turns out, he's neither.
  • Dodge the Bullet: Yulaw can do this effortlessly, thanks to his ever-increasing powers and knowing exactly what's happening to him. Gabe picks it up as the events of the film force him to explore the limits of his abilities.
  • Doppelmerger: The crux of the plot, killing your alternate timeline duplicates is a way to give yourself more power, becoming something close to a god is possible.
  • Double Vision: Jet Li versus Jet Li, several times.
  • The End... Or Is It?: Yulaw still lives, albeit in a Penal Colony in the Hades Universe, and will stop at nothing to become "The One".
  • Evil Counterpart: "Lawless" is a ruthless convict, whereas Gabe Law is an upstanding member of the police. Yulaw was also a law enforcement agent for the MVA before embarking on his quest to be "the One." Thus, both "Lawless" and Yulaw are this to Gabe.
  • Evil Redhead: Yulaw's partner/fellow conspirator, one of T.K.'s other multiverse selves, who helps him escape.
  • Expendable Clone: Invoked by Yulaw, who seems genuinely confused as to why he should want to care about killing his alternate selves, especially when it gives him more power.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Yulaw used to be a really good MVA agent until he found out what happens when you kill an alternate self.
  • Flipping the Bird: Two stealth examples.
    • Yulaw's partner triggers explosives by raising one finger with her hand upright, activating some kind of device on her ring, in a gesture that looks exactly like flipping the bird. However, upon close inspection she's raising her index, not middle finger.
    • When Gabe prepares himself to fight on his own terms instead of Yulaw's, he shows his right hand's fingers raised, the middle one bent forward. He has a slight smile on his face.
  • Geo Effects: Gabe uses a fighting style that requires a great amount of space to be effective. Once his battle with Yulaw moves from a narrow catwalk to an open environment, Gabe takes the advantage.
  • Give Him a Normal Life: Funsch gives Gabe a second chance at a decent life by sending him to another universe instead of his native one where he would likely be wrongfully incarcerated or even executed for Yulaw's actions.
  • Godhood Seeker: Yulaw boasts of becoming more than human by killing his other selves. Believing that he will become some kind of Physical God by killing the last one is viewed as psychotic hubris by others.
  • Good News, Bad News: First variety.
    Yulaw: The good news is you're not crazy. The bad news is... [starts shooting at him].
  • Guardian of the Multiverse: The Multiverse Authority (MVA).
  • Helpless Window Death: Just prior to the final confrontation, Gabe Law witnesses his evil alternate-dimension twin, Yulaw execute his wife — which Gabe is unable to stop and can only watch while letting out a Big "NO!" from behind a window.
  • In Spite of a Nail:
    • Presumably all or most of Yulaw's multiverse counterparts also have the name Law in some form or another. Also Yulaw and Gabe share the first name Gabriel.
    • We at least know in three different universes, Jet Li's character has Carla Gugino's character as a wife/significant other.
  • A Hell of a Time: When Yulaw is imprisoned after failing to become The One, he finds it's not so bad, as he receives what he wanted anyways: a place where he is the most powerful of all.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Downplayed with Yulaw: he is arrested for his killing spree in the end, but he can't be executed due to the danger that would pose to the multiverse, and his penal colony seems to be filled with mooks he can dominate endlessly, which isn't so far from his dream of becoming a god.
    • It doesn't appear that anyone discovers the involvement of Massie Walsh, the Evil Doppelgänger of T.K., who aids in Yulaw's escape and possibly kills several people with the explosion.
  • Kill One, Others Get Stronger: The premise. Each time Yulaw kills a multiversal duplicate of himself, he and all his duplicates get stronger, faster, smarter, tougher, and just plain better. It's implied Yulaw gets the lion's share of the energy; when it's down to just him and Gabe Law, Gabe is noted to be "almost" as powerful as Yulaw.
  • Killing Your Alternate Self: This is Yulaw's Evil Plan, to kill all of his other selves so he will be the only Yulaw and thus The One.
  • Interdimensional Travel Device: There's a quantum tunneling device which allows the interdimensional police to track criminals and, obviously, allows them to travel to different universes.
  • Laser Sight: Funsch's guns use alternating blue and red targeting lights that, while looking futuristic, aren't very practical in a shootout. Then again, he isn't able to hit Yulaw even once.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Yulaw and Gabe, thanks to Yulaw killing his multiversal counterparts bootstrapping them both up the Superpower Lottery.
  • Made of Iron: Roedecker is somehow able to walk despite getting his foot stomped so hard that it's embedded into concrete.
  • Mirror Match: Gabe and Yulaw in their ultimate confrontation.
  • Motive Rant: More self-controlled than a rant, but Yulaw gives a pretty good one when the MVA asks him if he has any last words before being sent to a penal colony for life. In classic form, he elides over the simple murderous facts of his actions and makes it all sound quite reasonable.
  • The Multiverse
    • We get to see maybe a half-dozen different versions of Yulaw at his hearing. According to Funsch, one of Law's counterparts is either gay or a woman (specifically, he says "married to a man"). This appears to be the only thing he mentions that bugs Gabe, probably because he can't figure out which case it would be.
    • Richard Nixon, the Used Car Salesman: Roedecker is a decorated interdimensional law officer of the MVA in his world, while his counterpart in Gabe's world works as a gas station attendant.
    • T.K. is an Evil Redhead in one world, a wife in another, and a has-yet-to-meet Gabe "Good" Law veterinarian in another.
    • Gabe is good friends with fellow LAPD officer Bobby Aldrich in his universe while, ironically, Bobby is a jailed felon wanting to kill Lawless (another version of Gabe) in another.
    • Al Gore was elected U.S. President in Lawless' universe.
    • George W. Bush was a liberal leaning President who recently passed a "Universal Healthcare Law" in Gabe's universe.
    • According to the website, the Drakhan Universe has an element that doesn't exist in any other that is illegal to import into the Alpha Universe, as it can be easily used to build weapons that aren't picked up by metal detectors.
  • My Suit Is Also Super: While clothes do get damaged, eventually, Gabe bringing down a pole with a single kick apparently does no damage to his shoe.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The climax takes place in just such a factory. A couple of isolated, detonated explosives, and suddenly the entire building is a shower of sparks and flame. But at least the walkways can handle guys leaping twenty feet into the air before landing on them.
  • Nu Metal: Being made and released during the height of the genre's popularity, the movie's soundtrack doubles as a time capsule for early 2000s hard rock music.
  • One-Man Army: Yulaw and Gabe, but especially Yulaw after absorbing all of his counterpart's energy, are able to fight numerous opponents easily.
  • Parrying Bullets: Yulaw does this in the scene at the hospital, using his own gun to deflect one of the bullets fired at him by the MVA agents.
  • Penal Colony: An entire penal universe even, aptly named "Hades" no less.
  • Permission to Speak Freely: Parodied. Funsch will do this before delivering some snark to Roedecker as a Running Gag.
  • Prison Rape: An implied intention in the end, as one of the penal colony inmates mentions that Yulaw has "a pretty mouth". But Yulaw reminds us that, to say the least, he won't be going down without a fight.
    Yulaw: I am Yulaw! I'm nobody's bitch. You are mine.
  • Punched Across the Room: Both Yulaw and Gabe can do that. Yulaw likes to do that after briefly going into a superspeed mode.
  • Red Herring: Funsch goes into a twenty-second Gun Porn-esque spiel about the high-tech machine-pistol he's carrying to Gabe Law. He gets off maybe half a dozen ineffective shots with it before it gets destroyed.
  • Redshirt Army: The SWAT teams in both versions of Los Angeles, as well as most of the multiversal police, are little more than speedbumps at best to Yulaw. The exceptions would be Roedecker and Funsch. The only time any uniformed police manage to seriously impair Yulaw is when Gabe is backing them up.
  • Religious and Mythological Theme Naming:
    • Some of the parallel universes are named after stars and mythological figures; Anubis, Monoceros, Canopus, Procyon, etc.
    • The Stygian Penal Colony in the Hades Universe.
  • Required Secondary Powers: While sped up, both Yulaw and Gabe are able to perform feats that, realistically, would require certain other abilities not mentioned in the film, such as gripping the ground while running at 50 mph, so they don't start bouncing up and down on every step. Yulaw is able to also exert amazing control of his body while in mid-air, as well as pick up two police motorcycles (each would weigh a lot more than he does).
  • Rule of Cool: Multiversal travel and murder as an excuse to have superpowered Jet Li fight superpowered Jet Li.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Salt and Pepper: Inverted with Roedecker and Funsch. Roedecker is black and is the even-tempered one while Funsch is the hothead.
  • Second Love: In the end, Gabe is sent into an idyllic universe where Los Angeles is "America's Cleanest City" and immediately becomes smitten with the universe' version of his wife, who was killed in the previous universe.
  • Spotting the Thread: At one point both Gabe and Yulaw are knocked unconscious and no-one can tell them apart. They have a narrow window to send the bad guy to the inescapable dimension and don't know who to send, until Agent Funsch sees the tan line from Gabe's wedding ring. An eagle-eyed viewer may be able to tell which is which even before Funsch spots the tan line: Yulaw tied the arms of his jacket around his waist, while Gabe removed his entirely.
  • Super Intelligence: Informed Attribute and Subverted Trope when Gabe says he's getting "stronger, faster, smarter" — by comparison to the increases in speed and strength we would expect his intellect to be superhuman too. However we never see any evidence of this; in fact T.K. is able to easily trick Yulaw at one point, and he fails to look out for Danger Takes a Backseat.
  • Super Speed: One of the main stock superpowers the Laws get from the deaths of their alternate selves. They can move in Bullet Time and Yulaw is clocked running over 50 mph.
  • Super Strength:
    • Illustrated most dramatically by Yulaw clotheslining two motorcycles — not the cops on the motorcycles, the vehicles themselves — and then wielding them like batons against their fallen riders. Then there's the fact that both Gabe and Yulaw are strong enough to punch each other several feet away and break heavy machinery. Yulaw also effortlessly picks up an opponent wearing body armor to use him as a shield, at super speed no less.
    • On the now-defunct website, it's stated that this is how Yulaw accidentally outed himself to MVA. A fellow MVA officer asked him to carry a box full of stuff up the stairs, and Yulaw did so easily, unaware that the other officer had filled the box with heavy weights. Unfortunately, the other officer, a multiple black belt, underestimated Yulaw's strength (and martial arts skills) and ended up paraplegic from the fight.
  • Super Toughness: As with the other superpowers, an effect of absorbing the energy from slain alternate selves. This one is mainly used to survive fights with each other, since due to the Super Speed, the Laws rarely get hit with anything else. Downplayed since the third-to-last Law is still easily killed by a bullet, and the two main Laws are still vulnerable to the debilitating effects of Teleportation Sickness.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Gabe manages to defeat Yulaw nonlethally, preserving the multiverse's stability, and ends up in an idyllic Los Angeles where he meets an alternate version of Izzy, showing his life will take the same track but even better. Meanwhile, despite being exiled, Yulaw prepares to tear the Hades Universe a new asshole and looks happy as a clam about it.
  • Take a Third Option:
    • Rather than kill Yulaw, they manage to teleport him to a prison dimension.
    • Yulaw invokes this in his scene with Roedecker.
      Roedecker: [holds up bomb] First choice: give up. Second choice: die.
      Yulaw: [snatches bomb] Third choice.
    • Done on Gabe's behalf by the MVA at the end. When it seems like his only options are face prosecution for Yulaw's crimes or live the rest of his life as a fugitive, they transport him to a peaceful parallel universe and as a bonus, he gets to meet T.K. for the first time all over again.
  • Teleportation Sickness: Even Yulaw becomes helpless after a transit between dimensions, allowing him to be arrested.
  • Tell Me How You Fight: Yulaw uses a style that favors attacking in a straight line (Xingyiquan), which reflects how focused he is on achieving his goal. Gabe uses a more circular style (Baguazhang), showing that he is more about harmony and balance. This plays directly into their duel, where Yulaw has the advantage on a straight and narrow catwalk, but gets owned once they move to more wide-open ground and Gabe is able to get behind him.
  • There Can Be Only One: Defied. It can't be allowed for there to be only one. Ideally, there should be, at least, 125.
  • Title Drop: A few times. Some from Yulaw and Gabe. "I will be the One!"
  • Unishment: At the end, Yulaw is trapped in a penal colony where he has to fight off wave after wave of inmates. By being sent to a place where he can fight endlessly and always be the strongest, it seems that he's gotten what he always wanted.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Subverted during the final confrontation between Gabe and Yulaw. Gabe, thoroughly enraged at T.K.'s murder, assaults Yulaw directly with raw strength and aggression, playing into Yulaw's strengths and allowing Yulaw to effectively counter and pummel him. It isn't until Gabe stops and goes into a state of controlled rage that lets him take advantage of his strengths that he's able to defeat Yulaw.
  • Victor Gains Loser's Powers: A variation, where it doesn't really matter how someone dies, since their life force is then redistributed among the remaining doubles in The Multiverse. The Big Bad Yulaw is determined to kill all his doubles in order to become The One and have superhuman strength, speed, and endurance. However, the last remaining double Gabe also has the same level of strength as Yulaw (just no practice using it), as they're both sharing the energy of over a hundred doubles split between just the two of them.
  • Victory Pose: Yulaw after killing his doubles.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Yulaw gets overwhelmed in the second half of the final fight to where he resorts to using a fire axe to try and kill Gabe.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Played with. Yulaw generally just shoots his targets immediately, having dispatched Lawless this way and tried to shoot Gabe several times, not to mention using a grenade. It's not clear why he gave up on it for the final battle, though he might have considered Gabe getting a handle on his powers and thus being unshootable (Yulaw dodges bullets at several points). Roedecker specifically forbids Funsch from just shooting Yulaw, as by the time they get the chance there's only two versions left and they don't want to risk leaving only one. Gabe is determined to deal with Yulaw personally, without any weapons, citing the fact that they haven't worked.
  • Wire Fu: Many impressive jumps courtesy of Super Strength giving both Laws super jumping.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: It's implied killing his first multiversal duplicate sent Yulaw off the deep end. Whether it was the psychological trauma of being forced to kill "himself" in self-defense or the increased power is debatable, but by the time of the film he is insanely, ruthlessly obsessed with his goal of becoming "the One", even referring to his other duplicates as "wasted energy."
  • Worthy Opponent: Yulaw spends the whole movie trying to ambush or incriminate Gabe; by the end, Gabe has survived everything and Yulaw faces him man-to-man.