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One Percenter
One Percenter

One Percenter

Written by Richard Durrance on 11 Mar 2024

Distributor Third WIndow • Certificate 15 • Price £17.99

Third Window are going full action with One Percenter, Yudai Yamaguchi’s (writer of Versus) vehicle for Tak Sakaguchi to let crunching violence rip.

Action actor, Takuma Toshiro (Tak Sakaguchi), master of assassination-jujitsu, has had one action hit, and wanting to follow it up with "real action", (none of this balletic, dancing action crap), falls out of favour within the industry. Finally, along with his remaining (if unlikely) protege, Akira, he raises just enough money to take off to an island to scout for his new real action film. Problem is,  stunt director ‘Sir’ Tony is already there prepping a dancing action movie, not to mention some of Toshiro’s old protege’s who have fled him to another bloody unrealistic action movie. But that’s no problem when action really gets real, as the island becomes a battleground for a small yakuza war, and so Toshiro has the chance to film his Real Action movie.

I hadn’t realised until after watching One Percenter that writer-director Yudai Yamaguchi had written Versus; as I finished watching the film I sat thinking: hmm, this is all rather like Versus, for reasons I’ll delve into later. As the film opens, Toshiro is in his early pomp, talking about his use of martial arts and desire to master it as only one percent of people do; along with his desire to make genuinely, crunchingly real action, with nothing staged. Sad then that we skip ahead to him being second-villain in a balletic action movie to a rather anaemic star, who seems about as exciting as a soggy noodle left in a rainy puddle. Sakaguchi as Toshiro is clearly disinterested in the film he’s being forced to make and seems like a coiled spring about ready to explode.  

Thankfully for all involved he does not explode, and focuses instead on getting enough money together for a potential film shoot on an island with a deserted zinc factory, where much of One Percenter then takes place. You have to say it’s quite Enter the Dragon in how it uses the island to essentially isolate its characters, taking escape or phone calls out of the equation. It keeps everything to essentials. Though what the film is doing is a bit obvious, it’s nevertheless a good move as it’s a great location to create an action film in, mixing up dark, claustrophobic spaces with wide open areas, and everyone without a hope of rescue. Also, as someone who likes urban areas the enormous, labyrinthine factory does it for me, especially all the rooftop areas, full of walkways, which are nicely shot, drone cameras floating through it to give a sense of open but confusing and confined spaces.

Equally, as the island is invaded by yakuza and – as you do - a load of rented faceless commandoes, Sakaguchi as real action force of nature, crunchingly Bruce Lee in his action style with his acts of bloody violence often very inventive. It’s noticeable one character refers to him as Jackie (Chan) but he prefers to think of himself as Bruce Lee, and you can see why. There is nothing in this that feels balletic, all the action is satisfyingly grounded. The commandoes though are a bit like the undead from Versus, mainly there to show Sakaguchi’s ability to utilise violence, so arguably there’s something of a lack of sense of peril, but the film is concerned about showing the efficiency of his ability to crack bones without killing his enemies. He is action acting, even if those around him are really trying to kill him, perfectly providing what Toshiro wants; Real Action.

What is problematic though is how as the yakuza invade the island. He uses the opportunity to have his remaining, and awkward protege Akira film him, something that makes absolute narrative sense when you think this is what he wants from his action films, Real Action, Real Violence, but the story rather neglects this quite quickly until it suddenly resurrects the idea, in a tricksy ending that I found unnecessary. Honestly, the story would have worked much better if it had instead committed to Real Action because narratively that works perfectly, and is brutally visceral enough to reflect the character's action-movie intent. Instead, Yamaguchi tries to be too clever. And whereas the switch ending in Versus works, what he tries to do here felt jarring to me, like he is writing to a pattern rather than what genuinely would work in the best interest of the film. Sometimes simplicity really is key.  

Also similar to Versus is the innocent yakuza daughter caught in the middle, a true saint, even called Maria, who is a bit of a limp character really, there to be in peril and give Sakaguchi a reason to go full action. On the opposing side there is Ami, another daughter of the yakuza, one legged and brutal. Saint and Satanic. It's all a bit too heavy-handed, and whereas in Versus that worked well enough, the low-low budget allowing them to get away with some of the more unsubtle aspects of the characterisation, here it just feels old hat. Again, a bit like some aspects were written to a pre-designed schema. Had Yamaguchi committed to the Real Action aspects of the film and gave it that purity, the chance to make a real action film within a film (yes, it’s all very meta), the story would have worked better. The film would still allow for some of its critique of overly balletic action, which it does by mainly focussing on stunt-director-supremo ‘Sir’ Tony, (so they call him in Hong Kong, you know), who shouts as he tries to kick (for emphasis, innit) and so of course gets his arse handed to him by the real villain, who in proper swashbuckling fashion is the main henchman. This is standard stuff, ever since Guy of Gisbourne in Robin Hood there is a main henchman to do the violence, though here the main henchman is mainly in the background, until suddenly the film needs someone to really be able to go after Sakaguchi’s Toshiro and truly test his abilities.  

There is a lot in One Percenter that works. Sakaguchi feels properly solid and viscerally able to drop a dozen or two commandoes. The film is often a bit over-directed, as Yamaguchi very much follows the mantra of Versus’s director Kitamura’s school of keep the camera moving to suggest action a bit too much. And maybe that’s sort of the problem, the film tries to do a bit too much, and should have kept to essentials, gone for the Real Action without the need to go for a twist ending, removing some of the more unnecessary characters and committed to showing us crunching visceral action in the context of the film Sakaguchi’s Toshiro wants to make.

That said keeping things to 85-minutes means that Yamaguchi never wears out the welcome to the zinc factory island. But the film feels a bit stuck in the past, Yamaguchi doesn’t seem to have progressed from what he wrote in Versus. For those that love this sort of thing, a reason for unconstrained action, then I think they’ll be delighted with One Percenter, but for those who maybe want that and something else, then that’s where it falls over, especially for me the Maria and Ami, Saint and Satanically Vicious makes me long for shades of grey. But at heart, when it comes to bashing body parts, it’s stylish and believable, Sakaguchi is the part, an actor you think capable of Real Action.

One Percenter

Crunchingly "real action" that - when it hits - makes you feel bone snapping, even if the story should have stuck to a purer narrative thread.

Richard Durrance
About Richard Durrance

Long-time anime dilettante and general lover of cinema. Obsessive re-watcher of 'stuff'. Has issues with dubs. Will go off on tangents about other things that no one else cares about but is sadly passionate about. (Also, parentheses come as standard.) Looks curiously like Jo Shishido, hamster cheeks and all.


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