Election (2005)

"Very Good"

Election (2005) Review


Election plunges us so deep into the tangled world of powerful Hong Kong triads that it takes a second film, Triad Election (made a year later), to fully untangle all the intrigue. Fear not, however. Both films can be enjoyed independently, but together they comprise a minor epic of gansterdom that might impress even Coppola.

These hoodlums aren't what you'd expect. The Wo Shing Society actually runs under a form of democratic rule in which a new leader is elected every two years. The campaigns can be a bit rough, but the idea is to keep cool heads and transfer power with a minimum of fuss and violence.

This time around, the slightly skanky street-smart Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai), who is known for his hot temper and who won't take losing well, is pitted against Lok (Simon Yam), a quiet yet forceful presence who looks more like a middle manager at an accounting firm than a godfather.

Big D really wants to win, and he's not above bribery to get votes. When that doesn't work, he kidnaps two "uncles," cages them in wooden crates, and hurls them down a cliff repeatedly until they give in. It's a memorable campaign tactic. What Big D doesn't have is the Dragon's Head Baton, a symbolic hunk of wood that the leader must possess in order to rule. It's been hidden away in China, and an all-out race ensues to find and snatch it, setting up some exciting -- but not too bloody -- roadside tumult.

In fact, Election is notable for its lack of gratuitous violence. These gangsters like to keep things cool. Even the police department's anti-gang squad is far more concerned with simply keeping the triads' knife-wielding tendencies off the streets and out of sight than in actually trying to shut down their vast operations. One of the most violent scenes is also one of the funniest and most telling: As one gangster beats his rival with a thick log to find out where the baton is hidden, both their cell phones ring, and they're informed that they're now working for the same side. Hey, sorry about that, guy. Nothing personal. No harm, no foul. Allegiances can change quickly within the triads.

Almost too quickly, to be honest. Election can be difficult to follow at times, as legions of indistinguishable triad members make deals in the darkness, but all becomes clear in the film's astonishing final scence, in which Lok and Big D establish the pecking order... at least until the sequel.

Johnnie To is a prolific director of incredible energy; he really cranks them out. Even so, he has more hits than misses, and Election is one of his better efforts, going beyond the typical triad clichés to take a close look at what makes these "businessmen" tick.

Aka Hak se wui.

Maryland proudly pledges its votes for... the Wo Shing Society!



Facts and Figures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Johnnie To

Producer: Johnnie To, Dennis Law

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