One-Percenter is a brilliant piece of action filmmaking and a showcase for the amazing Tak Sakaguchi. The film is playing apart of Fantastic Fest 2023.
There is a moment in One-Percenter that made this reviewer laugh out loud. It was a throwaway line about the main character action actor/director Takuma Toshiro (Tak Sakaguchi) and his film that was released a decade prior. The laughter came out of the knowingness of writer/director Yûdai Yamaguchi’s script. There’s a razor-sharp understanding of action films and the specific type of film One-Percenter is. Coupled with the truly brilliant premise, One-Percenter is to Action Films what Scream is to Horror.
Everything the film does from its opening doc-style YouTube featurette to the on-set shenanigans to the interactions between fans and star come from a verisimilitude that will make any action laugh and nod. However when the film turns into a take-no-prisoners action film with Toshiro finally getting his chance to prove not only his theories about action but his own mettle against real-life yakuza henchmen who are trying to kill him, the film soars.
Director Yamaguchi and Sakaguchi in collaboration with legendary action choreographer Kensuke Sonomura create an action film of sustained excellence, beauty, and speed – for the love of the action gods, the speed – that is a throwback to the style of Bruce Lee, early era Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. One-Percenter’s action is so quick, so agile, so furious that one would think it’s aided by CG or editing.
Though quickly one finds that with sustained takes and framing/blocking of these fights, one sees there are no ‘strings’ attached to these performers. One-Percenter shows us how quick and accurate of a physical performer Tak is. Artist or performer is an understatement for Star Tak Sakaguchi. The YouTube superstar, recently seen in Bad City as the scene-stealing unstoppable assassin, is all full display here. There is a gravitas to Tak’s onscreen presence that recalls the best of the action stars of yesteryear. However, it isn’t just the gravitas but his theories, ethics, and approach to the action – doing everything himself that elevates him into the stratosphere of unique action actors working today.
This is not just a repetition of the fight formula for a one-trick performer. The action set pieces are each uniquely onto itself but always with an eye for character and story. The “flashlight” set piece is the highlight of the entire film – set to Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune makes it all the more unique. In fact, the use of that bit of classic composition gives an unexpected moroseness that takes the film to the emotionally fulfilling ending. In the center of each of is Tak nimbly moving through each scene with a commanding presence.
Beyond showing us Tak’s range as an action star, Yamaguchi’s script cleverly gives him space to show his acting chops. It is only at its end do we really see just how clever of a film One-Percenter is.