"One Percenter (2023)

by Joseph Perry and Mike Imboden

In our “The Good, the Bad, and the Verdict” film reviews, Joseph and Mike give their thoughts on a slice of cinema. For this installment, it’s the action flick One Percenter by Yudai Yamaguchi.

Action film actor Takuma Toshiro (Tak Sakaguchi) is a man  with only one goal: the perfection of action film acting. But when his samurai-approach to the profession clashes with an industry addicted to wires, CGI, and quick edits, Toshiro and his trusty apprentice Akira (Kohei Fukuyama) decide to make their dream film themselves.

The Good
Joseph: One Percenter is a showcase of fast-action fight choreography. Its story may seem simple, with Takuma Toshiro hoping to make a comeback film on a small island with an abandoned factory, where another film happens to be shooting. But that’s not the only shooting that will happen, as two yakuza gangs are in search of a hidden stash of cocaine in the factory. Amazing, often blinding-fast work from Tak Sakaguchi (well known for Versus [2000] and more than 50 films since that one) and action choreographer Kensuke Sonomura, who has been doing stunt work, action choreography, and action direction for 20 years are the big draws here, and well worth giving the film a watch for. A sequence involving strobe effects with a flashlight is a particularly terrific one. Writer/director Yûdai Yamaguchi keeps things flowing at the proper clip, working in some commentary on the current state of Asian martial arts films.

Mike: The story of One Percenter is a simple one; an action movie star, who fancies himself more than just an actor, hasn’t had a hit in 10 years so he decides to film his own movie. As luck would have it, some Yakuza dudes battling over a gigantic cache of cocaine are on the same island he’s scouting as a location to film at.
What follows is a frenetic cascade of fight scenes that are a wonder to watch. As our protagonist employs his self-described “assassin-jutsu” and “wave” technique of close quarters combat, we’re treated to some truly awe-inspiring fights that at times feels like watching a video game.  One fight stands out as the signature battle which involves a flashlight and a darkened room which is equal parts original and a thing of beauty.
The simple story allows the film to move at a nice brisk pace, never feeling too overwrought or padded, with some fun characters helping to keep things interesting.

The Bad
Joseph: One Percenter has its share of stereotypical characters, with the standout one here for me being Ami, the spoiled, sadistic daughter of a yakuza boss — though Narumi Kanon does a fine job with the role.
Although the following is not a full-on spoiler, please skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to go into One Percenter as cold as possible. There are a couple of “Gotcha!” moments in the third act that seem to be there for no other reason than to be “Gotcha!” moments, making the ending feel rather flat considering what came before.

Mike: The story of One Percenter is a simple one… unfortunately, to some viewers it may seem a bit TOO simple. There’s not a lot of layers to any of the characters and the motivations seem a little cliche in some cases.
The first act, while engaging, is a little slow for an action movie and any impatient viewers may see that as a negative.
There’s also the ending which tries to do something clever (no spoilers!) when something clever isn’t needed, thus causing a bit of an abrupt tonal shift which doesn’t really work.  

The Verdict
Joseph: One Percenter is pure martial arts madness with something to say about wire-fu and “dancing” in Asian action films. You’ll be hard pressed to find more impressive action choreography in recent films, and that’s saying quite a bit. Highly recommended for aficionados of the genre and casual viewers, as well.

Mike: Some incredible fight scenes elevate an otherwise mediocre story which some may find a bit too simplistic.  Viewers looking for outstanding martial arts action will probably be able to get over that fact, however. The video game feel of the “many-against-one” battles keeps things moving and outside of a rather slow first act, the film moves at a brisk pace.  One Percenter is recommended for martial arts fans who prefer close-up and violent fights somewhat like those in The Bourne movies.

One Percenter
is available digitally and on Blu-ray via Third Window Films

One Percenter
Directed By: Yudai Yamaguchi
Written By: Yûdai Yamaguchi
Starring: Rumika Fukuda, Sho Aoyagi, Tak Sakaguchi, Togo Ishii
Run Time: 1h 25m
Rating: 15
Release Date: March 12th, 2024