There’s not much action in this, but To develops a mostly engrossing triad flick about infighting and power plays.
Dir. Johnnie To
2005 | Hong Kong | Crime/Drama/Thriller | 100 mins | 2.35: 1 | Cantonese, Mandarin & English
M18 (passed clean) for violence and coarse language
Cast: Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Louis Koo, Lam Suet, Nick Cheung, Wang Tian-Lin, Maggie Siu
Plot: Rival gang leaders are locked in a struggle to become the new chairman of Hong Kong’s triad society.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d’Or (Cannes); Won 2 Golden Horses – Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Effects, and Nom. for 9 Golden Horses – Best Feature Film, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Makeup & Costume Design, Best Original Film Score, Best Original Song, Best Action Choreography
International Sales: Celluloid Dreams
Subject Matter: Moderate/Slightly Dark
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed on Netflix)
One of the most prolific Hong Kong directors ever, Johnnie To is a familiar name to those who dig Hong Kong cinema, particularly crime-thrillers involving organised crime and triads.
Despite having made more than 30 films by that point, Election is To’s first ever film to compete for the highest prize at one of the big three international film festivals, in this case, the Cannes Film Festival, paving way for more of his later works to compete at Berlin, Venice and Rotterdam. It is also one of his most well-known movies.
Starring a host of big names including Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Louis Koo and more, Election is a good introduction for those who have yet to discover this dynamic and versatile filmmaker.
“Don’t talk to me until you have the baton!”
With intricate plotting charting a triad election gone wrong leading to power plays and infighting, it takes a bit of time to settle into To’s work, not to mention viewers are thrust into the proceedings immediately without quite figuring out who’s who, and who’s on whose side.
But the pull of Election is that the more you are absorbed, the more things become clearer. And when it does, To creates a fascinating momentum that foregrounds the battle between loyalties and minds.
There’s not much action in this (which could disappoint action aficionados) but there’s still To’s trademark precise suspense-style staging to savour, where he sets up scenario after scenario where the threat of violence could erupt at any point in time.
Leung and Yam are superb, with the former playing a power-hungry ‘mad dog’-type leader-wannabe who bribes folks to vote for him. Yam’s character is calmer and more collected, which also means that he may be much more capable of the unpredictable. The dynamics between the duo is what sustains the film, especially in the latter half.
Quentin Tarantino loved this film so much that he proclaimed it to be “The Best Film of the Year” on the US DVD cover.
As far as Singapore is concerned, the sequence involving a triad initiation rite was cut for the film’s release, fearing that it might promote gangsterism. This is, of course, stupid. Thankfully for Netflix, fans here can now see the film in its full glory. While it doesn’t quite hit the ball out of the park, Election is mostly engrossing, and always sure of itself and what it wants to achieve.