The Original Multiverse Movie: Jet Li’s The One (2001)

20 years before the multiverse movie trend, Jet Li fought Jet Li.

Sony Pictures

The concept of infinite timelines happening simultaneously dates all the way back to Ancient Greece, while the term “multiverse” wasn’t associated with the concept until the mid-20th century.

But they’ve become all the rage recently. The trend in film seems to have started a few years ago with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which gave us wacky timelines with Nicolas Cage and John Mulaney as Spider-Man. Marvel brought that spider-success to the MCU with Spider-Man: No Way Home, which brought back Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield as your friendly neighborhood superhero.

They kept it going this spring with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which played in theaters at the same time as the indie answer to this trend, A24’s Everything Everywhere All at Once.

If you’re burnt out on multiverses, take solace in the fact that there’s a you out there who can’t get enough of them.

And if this universe’s you can’t get enough, I have a recommendation from the early aughts that did this whole thing way before the trend: The One (2001), directed by James Wong.

Jet Li, in one of his earliest American roles, plays a simple part: a badass.

Essentially, he plays Jet Li jumping from universe to universe to kill other Jet Lis to absorb their awesome Jet Li powers. He’s already taken down 124 Jet Lis and there’s only one Jet Li left. If he can take out the only other Jet Li, he becomes The One. A super duper crazy powerful Jet Li.

Unfortunately for him, the MultiVerse Authority polices all of the goings-on between the universes and they consider these acts of killing himself over and over again to be murder. He’s racked up 124 charges of murder now and they want to lock him before they find out what would happen if he became The One. They’re worried he would truly create The Darkest Timeline, so they send in the always dynamic Delroy Lindo and his partner, a peach-fuzz-head-of-haired Jason Statham.

Kung fu ensues.

Everyone knows that Jet Li is an insanely talented martial artist, so it feels like he is the only natural enemy that could keep up with him. He takes on the other him (quite convincingly for 2001, I might add) in some truly insane matchups. Meanwhile, Lindo and Statham have brought guns to a kung fu fight — supersonic kung fu fights at that.

It’s absolutely bonkers. It’s a cinematic video game, bouncing from level to level, universe to universe, while Jet Li loses life after life — playing 10 versions of the same character throughout the film.

It even comes complete with the most early-2000s nu-metal soundtrack of all time, perfectly curated for each moment in the film. It’s completely self-aware: “Bodies” while he’s beating the hell out of people (Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor!), “Down with the Sickness” when good Jet Li thinks he’s going crazy seeing bad Jet Li (Looking at my own reflection when suddenly it changes, violently it changes…You’ve woken up the demon in me), and “Blood Brothers” when they duke it out in the finale, (It’s in our nature to destroy ourselves, it’s in our nature to kill ourselves).

What more could you want? It’s the ultimate movie mixtape.

The whole movie is like that. It’s an assortment of all of the kinds of things that give 2000s action movies some staying power: a little Jet Li kung fu, a little Delroy Lindo conviction, a little Jason Statham attitude, a blasting soundtrack, some Matrix-inspired bullet time, some surprisingly-strong CGI, silliness, stupidity, and a lot fun.

A whole lot of fun.

It’s the multiverse movie to cure the MCU-staleness that will run any concept into the ground — and it’s also the movie for those that need more and more multiverse.

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