Fantastic Fest 2023 Review: ONE-PERCENTER Delivers Brutal 'Real Action'

Contributing Writer; Chicago, IL (@anotherKyleL)
Fantastic Fest 2023 Review: ONE-PERCENTER Delivers Brutal 'Real Action'

The 85-minute One-Percenter, the new film from Meatball Machine writer/director Yudai Yamaguchi, opens with an extended series of intercut interviews and behind-the-scenes segments that feel like a DVD extra, centering on the intensity and combat abilities of action star Takuma Toshiro (Tak Sakaguchi).

Members of the Japanese Self Defense Force and professional MMA fighters say that Toshiro is an incredible fighter who is entirely capable of killing with his bare hands. Toshiro, knowing his abilities, complains that what passes for action cinema is closer to dancing than fighting; he bemoans the lack of “realism” in action, saying that anyone can say a believable “good morning” on film, but no one ever attacks each other with “real” intent to harm. He seeks to change that and introduce a new era of “real action.”

Ten years later, he’s working as a second-tier bad guy on a movie with wire-fighting and performers who can’t keep up with him. When that movie wraps, he decides that along with his apprentice/assistant he needs to make the real action movie he’s always talked about himself.

The two begin their process by discussing possible locations and looking for producers. Things aren’t going well until an old associate of Toshiro’s suggests that they check out an island that was once a zinc factory. It’s here that One-Percenter kicks into gear.

Shortly after arriving on the island, Toshiro and his apprentice find themselves in the middle of an all out yakuza war. The death of a boss has left two factions of his followers at odds with one another, scouring the island for a mythic two tons of cocaine the late leader said he’d hidden there. It’s a situation that most people would be horrified to find themselves in, but Toshiro isn't most people.

The action star immediately falls into the role he was born to play, a hero protecting the young daughter of the dead boss, whom both camps of gangsters want to interrogate, and taking down the bad guys one by one; or ten at a time. One-Percenter fairly quickly abandons its meta-element and becomes a straightforward action showcase for Sakaguchi’s abilities.

That’s not a problem, though, as Sakaguchi brings the choreography of action director Kensuke Sonomura to life with a dazzling commitment and Yamaguchi’s camera literally flies through the abandoned factory ensuring that there’s rarely a moment of pause between action scenes. The action is brutal and Yamaguchi shoots it with an 'in the fray' style that moves around and through combatants to make sure we see every move, cutting only to lend greater impact to moments of bone-breaking and gut-punching.

Most remarkable are two (almost) back-to-back sequences in which Toshiro fights an onslaught of tactically equipped henchmen, first with a wrench and then with a flashlight, in a dark room. He uses these tools to incapacitate and seriously injure his enemies without fatality.

There’s an emphasis on his awareness of what will and will not kill someone, though he can hardly be said to be merciful. The flashlight fight in particular is wonderfully creative as he uses the light to blind enemies, using the tool as a strobe just as much as a blunt object. The fact that the battle is set to Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” only makes it more magical.

The film’s few non-action scenes are kept interesting by a cast of interesting characters on the Yakuza side, including a ruthless, one-legged teenage girl, whose father is one of the faction leaders, and her silent teacher. The teen steals every scene she’s in by combining an apathy for human life with an almost childlike desire to meet the daughter of the recently deceased boss so that they can be friends. Her teacher, who never speaks, serves as a sort of big bad to Toshiro in an unbelievably quick-moving final fight that features no non-diegetic sound for its first half.

One-Percenter doesn’t deliver on the big ideas about the fine line between reality and fiction that it sets up in its first moments. But when the action hits this hard and the movie looks this good, it’s difficult to complain about a lack of intellectual curiosity.

The film enjoys its North American premiere at Fantastic Fest.

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Fantastic Fest 2023Yudai Yamaguchi

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