I fell in love with action films when my uncle put on Enter the Dragon. There was something about watching men pull off stunning feats of athleticism. But most importantly, it felt real. Now, with so much wirework and CGI it’s hard to come by that awe-inspiring feeling of watching the body become artful combatants, questioning if that bone-crunching collision was real. Just when I found myself desperate for that reality-blurring line of fighting acumen, One-Percenter is a movie that walked into the void and provided a much-needed change of pace.
One-Percenter, written and directed by Yûdai Yamaguchi, follows Takuma Toshiro. An old stuntman, he’s well-respected but considered past his prime because of how he shows up to set, dejected by the state of action and its reliance on wirework and CGI. A martial artist, the action films he stars in currently are all generic, boring, and underutilizing his talent and love of fighting. Looking for fight choreography that adheres as closely to the reality of martial arts he trains in, he decides to make his own movie that doesn’t use all of the bells and whistles but instead focuses on the art of fighting.
Getting ready to shoot, Toshiro finds himself wandering into danger and, with that, the ultimate opportunity to put his martial arts training to use and bring real action to the screen. Caught in the middle of two rival yakuza gangs who are racing to find a lost stash of cocaine worth millions, Toshiro has to fight his way through them with only his assistant-turned-cinematographer Akia to help.
As an action film, One-Percenter is everything I want from an action movie, but more importantly, the story presents a critical eye on the industry that is extremely needed. Kensuke Sonomura‘s fight choreography is brash, raw, and loudly tells the story at a high pace. Following Toshiro as we see him change from a bored and dejected stuntman to someone being pushed to his limits and loving every minute of it is a level of fantastic that will speak to any and all action fans.
As Toshiro, action great Tak Sakaguchi is a powerhouse. While some think that the story needs to be sold by dialogue, the violence on screen in One-Percenter is a transformative element captured by Sakaguchi in his performance. There is an infectious joy and care put into crafting the character both in Yamaguchi’s script but truly in Sakaguchi’s acting. As he fights wave upon wave of Yakuza, each one shows new challenges and new nods to the action cinema of the past that also shows a path for the future.
Thrilling, fast, and an absolute riot of an action film, One-Percenter is what an action movie should be in just about every day. Stripped away of the bombastic effects and CG work that so many have become accustomed to, especially in American action films, this is a film that will enter must-watch lists for the genre going forward. Sakaguchi as a performer, is what an action star should be: passionate, skilled, and one with his character.
One Percenter was screened as a part of the Fantastic Fest 2023 program and the movie will be distributed by WellGoUSA with no set release date.
Thrilling, fast, and an absolute riot of an action film, One-Percenter is what an action movie should be in just about every day.