Chapter 24: I Will Be The One.

The One was originally written with The Rock in mind for the lead role. Instead, the Rock opted to take a shot at The Scorpion King, a modern-day knock-off of Arnold Schwarzenegger's stint in Conan the Barbarian. The Scorpion King has gone on to gross around $90 Million domestically; The One did about half as well. What any of this means, if anything, is anyone's guess; in addition to the obvious (the popularity of The Rock, the fact that it was a prequel to The Mummy), I think it has something to do, at least in part, with the fact that fantasy has been making a comeback as of late, and science fiction has been suffering for it. Which isn't to say that science fiction, or cyberpunk, are entirely dead genres; $45 Million is nothing to sneeze at. But the fact of the matter is that there's a cycle in Hollywood, and right now, with Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings trilogy dominating the world, it's clear to me, at least, that we're going back to the Eighties, when big fantasy ruled the minds and hearts of a million Dungeons & Dragons gamers, and Cyberpunk was just a blip on the radar.

You'd be forgiven for not seeing where Jet Li's The One fits into all of this; by any stretch of the imagination, it's far from the core tenets of Cyberpunk, and but for a few clever gizmos along the way, it's not even much of a science fiction movie. More than anything else, it's a 90-minute video game, a masturbatory martial arts extravaganza, and an obvious sign that we're going to be seeing a lot more Matrix-style special effects in the years to come. And yet despite all of that, and perhaps because of it, The One also marks a good place to bring this particular column's cycle to a close. Put simply, The One represents, in many ways, a definitive end point for the cyclical journey through life that the Cyberpunk protagonist has undergone since the early 1980s. And like any cycle, it's in some ways paradoxical; if we've come full circle, have we really gotten anywhere at all? The end is the beginning is the end. A cycle, after all, is a circle. And a circle is just a line around a hole. A zero trapped within a one.

Zeroes and ones, ones and zeroes. Our world, the world of the Cyberpunk, is full of them, thrives on them, is, indeed, built upon them. Ones and zeroes are all you get in the binary system that runs our computers, our cars, our factories, our lives. Throw an extra zero into the loop and you crash the system. Throw an extra one in there and nothing adds up properly. The center cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. All because of a one. The One.

In the film, a villain named Yulaw is (or would be) The One. By name alone, he references several more well-known (and better received) science-fiction films, including Highlander, with its well-known credo of "There can be only One," the obvious The Matrix, starring Keanu Reeves as "The One," and the less obvious Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, in which the young Anakin Skywalker is not just some kid who's going to become Darth Vader, but is referred to with great reverence as "The One who will bring balance to The Force."

Balance. Think about that one for a second. Balance logically requires two, as with the astrological Libra, the Scales, or Gemini, the Twins. If you've got only One, then you're out of balance. One tips the scales towards himself. One represents change, represents motion, represents something among the nothing. And One can only bring balance if there's another One on the other side. One and one make two. If you've got One, and you desire balance, then you need another One. One is never the loneliest number, then; as soon as One shows up, you know there's going to be an equal and opposite force strolling in before the end of Act One. A Scottish Highlander declares himself "The One" and before you know it, a whole stream of immortals are ready to take his head (a Zero) with their swords (sharp, pointy Ones). Neo is called "The One," and he gets kicked around a virtual subway station for speaking such heresy. Anakin is called "The One" and everything goes all to hell. Handbasket optional.

One is a dangerous number, then. It represents a desire for unity, which Cyberpunks would seem to fight against. One oppressive corporate government ruling all is precisely what nobody wants. One Nation under One God, Indivisible. Divide One by itself and you get One. One leads to One leads to One. One is not the path of the Cyberpunk protagonist. He prefers the comfort of the zero. The zero, you see, is going places. It represents a void to be filled with knowledge, a big curving surface that's just right for rolling along and going places. And as mentioned earlier, it represents a cycle. The cycle of the Cyberpunk's fall from mythology, and his return to a place among the gods in Heaven.

Viewed through the lens of Cyberpunk, The One, then, is not a film about a One. It's a film about a Zero. Cyberpunk is filled with Zeroes. Gibson gave us not just Count Zero, but Molly Millions, which makes more sense if you see it as Molly $1,000,000's; she's just full of zeroes, remove them and she'd just be Molly One. Take away the zero and you make things less valuable. Everything you learned about mathematics in school is wrong. Those zeroes are worth more than that one.

In this film, The Zero is Gabe, the guy that Yulaw (The One) is doing his best to eradicate. A One trying to erase a Zero, trying to get rid of nothing so he can become more of something. On a superficial level, Yulaw is your typical film villain, sneaking into a garage's ceiling ducts so he can snipe at the law enforcement officers below. Or was that Half-Life: Counterstrike? I get them confused. Regardless, in the film Yulaw successfully kills someone who looks just like himself, then proceeds to whip some police butt, Matrix-style, in bullet-time, moving insanely fast and with superhuman strength, dodging bullets, tossing officers around like rag dolls, and then finally outrunning several police cars. It's pretty clear we're not dealing with an ordinary man here.

He is, however, quite clearly human in some regard, because two MVA Agents from an alternate universe track him down and haul him off to his own world, courtesy of some rather painful-looking teleportation effects. And it's here, once he's in custody, that we learn that Mr. Gabriel Yulaw is one seriously bad guy, convicted of 123 first degree murders over the past 3 years, as well as a matching number of counts of unlawful travel to other universes. Sort of like getting a parking ticket while you're robbing a bank, in my opinion, but whatever. But as Yulaw explains to us while in his cell and in "the chair," preparing for his banishment to the Stygian Penal Colony in the Hades Universe, he's not your ordinary villain. In fact, if you step back and listen to the guy, he kinda makes sense in a twisted sort of way.

The multiverse is chaotic, he says, filled with energy spread thin among multiple copies of the same person, like a photocopy machine set on puree. Entropy, chaos, the center unable to hold, flinging out matter in all directions. The Big Bang. He (Yulaw) is just trying to make it all rational and neat, organizing all those multiple copies (by killing them, alas) and filing all their energy into one big cabinet -- himself. He wants to be faster, smarter, stronger... The One. A God, in a sense. ironic, then, that as he's about to be banished to Hell, he's told "May God be with you." God, as mythology tells us, cannot be in Hell; Hell is a state of being without the grace of God. But if Yulaw can become God, then the rules all change.

It would be a really short movie if Yulaw didn't escape at this point, reprogramming the teleportation machine to send himself to what one presumes is "our world," where he's about to track down the last remaining copy of himself, a man by the name of Gabe Law.

The names of these characters weren't chosen by accident; Gabriel (or Gabri'el) literally means something like "God is my strength, or "Strong man of God". The Chinese character "Yu" has several meanings: it can refer to a precious stone (in ancient times, it stood for Jade, and represented the king), or it can be a prefix that stands for "excellent" or "superior." Gabe Law, the good guy, is thus a "Strong Man" who stands for Law and order. Gabriel Yulaw, the bad guy, is a "Strong Man of God" who stands for a higher, "superior law." Gabe Law is our everyman, doing good on earth; Gabriel Yulaw is in a different realm, a godly person who brings his own morality and superiority to the table. Earthly laws have no meaning to him. He's above and beyond them.

Of course, this doesn't stop the good cops from chasing Yulaw away, with the help of Gabe, when the former tries to assassinate the latter. Only after Gabe is shot, and pays a visit to the hospital, do we truly understand that Yulaw isn't the only superhuman being wandering around; the energy that's divided among the surviving "copies" when Yulaw kills another of his selves is now split, 50/50, between Gabe and Yulaw. Balance. Two sides of the same coin, yin and yang, black and white.

Since the two are basically identical twins, confusion reigns when they both wind up in the same hospital dressed in identical clothing, and the police, thinking that their buddy Gabe has gone insane, don't know which one to stop. The two other-dimensional cops know exactly who they have to stop -- both Gabe and Yulaw. No matter which one dies, the other one will become The One, and the consequences could be unfathomable. Bad Yulaw, of course, doesn't care; he's got it all figured out, and explains as much to MVA Agent Roedecker:

                    Some people think you'd
                    explode. Some people think
                    you'd implode.

                    You're missing one.

                    Some people think you'd
                    become a god.

                    That's the one.

Needless to say, their encounter results in Roedecker's death, and Yulaw playing tennis with a few motorcycle cops, using their bikes as rackets. (An amusing addition to the DVD version; in the commentary track, it's explained that to keep a PG rating, nobody could actually be seen dying in the film. Thus, it was said about these police officers, "None of these police officers was killed. They were just heavily bruised.") Yulaw then sneaks off and enters Gabe's house, brutally murdering his wife in front of his eyes.

This is crucial.

Picked up by surviving MVA Agent Funsch, Gabe is devastated by his wife's death, pounding the dashboard and fuming with rage, insisting that he must kill Yulaw.

"You're acting like him," says Funsch.

"I am him... without her," says Gabe.

Gabe goes on to explain that he was nothing until he met his wife. She changed his life, gave him purpose and meaning. She made him whole. She made him a One, one of a pair. Without her, he's not even a One. He's just a Zero. Nothing once again. And now Gabe only wants to destroy Yulaw, no matter what happens. "As long as he's dead, I don't care," he says. "Kill me, I don't care," he says later. He's apathetic, beyond morality, beyond caring about life. The whole universe could explode, and he doesn't care. He's become, in a way, more than human, no longer concerned with human things.

Of course, you know that there's going to be a final showdown, and of course it has to take place in a big "Generic Industrial Factory" setting, allowing Gabe and Yulaw to stalk each other, do Crouching Tiger, Hidden Matrix flips and dodges, hover in mid-air, and spout meaningful bits of dialogue to one another:

                    After this, there will
                    be only one.

                    I won't be the one, but
                    neither will you.

Gabe doesn't want to be The One. He doesn't want to be a God. He just wants to end it all. He's a Zero, a nothing. Everything he cared about was taken from him, and he wants nothing to do with it. Or does he?

A shift in attitude comes when Gabe is knocked unconscious by Yulaw, seemingly killed. But like Neo in The Matrix (or Hulk Hogan in Wrestlemania), Gabe rises from the ground with renewed energy. He's symbolically gone to hell in a shower of sparks and flame, died and risen again, Christlike. The devil has tempted him with power, and now he realizes that killing Yulaw, or himself, would not bring about any good.

Thus, instead of killing Yulaw, Gabe only defeats him, dragging him back to his own universe so he can face justice. When they return, there's a bit of confusion as to who's who, and for a moment, Gabe is strapped in the Hellchair and prepped for takeoff. At the last minute (it's always at the last minute), Funsch notices the untanned strip of skin on Gabe's hand where he used to wear his wedding ring, and realizes that it's the wrong one. Which makes sense, after all; the hero only has to die and descend into hell once, and Gabe's already done that, symbolically. Now it's Yulaw's turn. The switch is made, Yulaw is sent to the Hades Universe, and Gabe is sent off to an alternate, happy universe where his wife is still alive. Yulaw gets Hell, Gabe gets Heaven.

It's interesting that the movie doesn't end on the "up" note; rather, the final vision we get is of Yulaw, in Hell, cloaked in grey and black, playing King of the Mountain with an assortment of other criminals like himself. "I don't need to know you," he says. "You only need to know me. I will be the One." Like Lucifer trapped in Hell, he's still raging against Heaven, determined to become a God. Evil is not defeated; it's just put back in its place for a while.

On one level (the most basic and obvious level), The One is just a dumb little martial arts movie with some special effects thrown in. It's easy to view it in that way, removed from the world of Cyberpunk, sci-fi and mythology. But viewed through a mythological lens, it takes on different meanings, represents something that even the film's writers and director probably never imagined it could represent. It's a story about Ones and Zeroes, about a search for Godhood, about the meaning of humanity, about Heaven and Hell and the gutter, and about the struggle of the Cyberpunk hero, who has everything taken away from him on his journey to the top, battling the concept of Corporate unity under one law, one person, one God. There's no room for unity and law and restriction on the shadow world that the Cyberpunk lives in. There's no room for God.

There is, however, room for the old school mythology, the deep stuff, the sort that goes beyond religion. Adam and Eve is about more than an apple and a serpent and the Judeo-Christian belief system. It's about men and women, their search for knowledge, and the danger of knowing too much. TK (Gabe's wife) is tempted by the evil Yulaw, chooses wrong, and is killed for it, leaving Gabe to be cast out of Eden, alone and afraid. Without her, the man inside of him was nothing. As the Smashing Pumpkins say in their song "Zero," "I'm your lover, I'm your zero." Gabe was a Zero, and he needed her. "She's all I really need," the song continues. "Cause she's the one for me."

But beyond the earthly realm, Gabe is also powerful, imbued with the same godly strength that Yulaw possesses. Even though he's a Zero, empty inside, he's a God. An unwilling God. Again, from "Zero:"

Emptiness is loneliness, and
Loneliness is cleanliness, and
Cleanliness is godliness, and
God is empty just like me

God is empty. God is a zero. God is dead, and we are God. The desire for unity, the desire to reshape all energy into one place obliterates individuality, destroys the self, destroys the universe. In chaos, we find individuality and self, but we also find suffering and pain. Struggle. And in struggle, existence. And in existence, hope that there's something better, something bigger, something divine, at the end of the alley.

You'll be forgiven if you think any of what has been written above (or has gone before, in previous columns), is utter drek, or incomprehensible nonsense. In a certain sense, it must be, because the concept I'm delving into here is paradoxical. Ones and zeroes, everything and nothing, beginning and ending, all the same, an eternal cycle, a snake eating its tail. Good fights evil, Law fights order, the God falls from grace, lives on earth, descends into Hell and rises again. And somewhere in that mess we find the Cyberpunk protagonist, struggling through life in a world that's trying to bring order to everything, a ball of chaos rolling among the dark streets while law shines bright from above, hoping to gain the power, or money, or street fame that will elevate him from nothingness into somethingness, that will bring him closer to Godhood.

Whether a replicant or a desert wanderer or a cop or the savior of the future, Cyberpunk protagonists all share this same struggle in common. They're placed in a darker position than most, but that only means they can rise even higher and shine brighter, given the option. In finding divinity, in achieving Godhood, the protagonist finds himself losing himself. And when you're already a Zero, losing yourself means, literally, that you've got nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

For what purpose humanity is there should not even concern us: why you are there, that you should ask yourself: and if you have no ready answer, then set for yourself goals, high and noble goals, and perish in pursuit of them! I know of no better life purpose than to perish in attempting the great and the impossible...
- Friedrich Nietzsche, 1873

1981 to 2001. 24 installments covering 21 years of Cyberpunk-influenced film. When this column began, it initially focused on ways to use Cyberpunk film plotlines in your own Cyberpunk campaigns. But as it evolved, it became clear, to me at least, that there was much more going on here than met the eye, and I felt it was important to discuss that.

There are some who disagree with me. There are some who think that Cyberpunk film and fiction is just about strapping on chrome arms and shooting guns in big alleys while corporations try to kill you. And yes, it's about that too. And if you want to limit it to that, then that's fine. But like any genre, there's always something deeper going on beneath the surface, a river of myth just waiting to be discovered. And I truly believe that discovering what's beneath the surface will enhance your understanding of what Cyberpunk is really, truly all about.

It's been a lot of fun writing this series. I've learned a lot from you, and I hope you've learned a lot from what I've written. Thanks for reading.