May 22, 2008
The Plot: Within the Wo Sing triad crime family within Hong Kong, they have regularly held elections to decide the president of the orginization amongst the elder council within the family. This year the choice is between Lok, a middle-aged and mature businessman who has been a leader of his own kind within the family – or Big D, a young and brash man who has earned a lot of money for the family over a relatively short amount of time. However simple the decision may seem, when money is involved and bribes are carried around – things get interesting. The film displays how sides consistently change and how something so simple can snowball into something so monstrous… and violent.

The Review: Johnny To has made a mad dash, jump and quadruple sommersault right into the top of my list of favorite filmmakers in just a month and some change. This is due mainly to me playing catchup with his career. I was somewhat aware, as I had seen the absolutely amazing Fulltime Killer several years ago, but only just now have I began to explore further into the depths of his vast catalog. Election stands out as a great example of what makes To such an exciting filmmaker. A shining mix of convention and iconoclast concepts thrown into a blender, then served in a tightly scripted and beautifully shot package that presents a chic and hip flavor in a film generally dominated by middle-aged or elderly men. In the post Infernal Affairs marketplace, Hong Kong has went gaga for tightly scripted crime genres with lots of emotional depth packed in with the regular mobster stories of regret, loyalty and honor – and call me a sucker if you want, but I couldn’t be happier with this turn of events.

The first time I saw such a film, I think would have to be the South Korean big budget “Shiri” many years ago. Hong Kong is delivering their own version of this American blockbuster thriller concept, with very traditional values and inserting the Triad philosophies within them. Election inserts the generally bland concept of the rogue gangster trying to take the place of the senior within a crime organization but gives the plot just enough of a twist to make it vibrant; by setting this drama amidst a democratic election for the top honor of the godfather position within the family. Now, I read a fair amount about criminal organizations and societies but this I have never heard of, and the concept creates a tense political atmosphere and along the way To I am sure is taking some shots at the justice system as essentially all of those running for the position essentially buy their votes with the head council members. However, as the politics unfold the film veers into a cat and mouse search for an ancient baton passed along from godfather to godfather. Violence is dealt, alliances broken and generally a neverending series of tradeoffs and swapping of the “upper hand” takes place in the taut minutes that follow throughout the film.

Election is being left behind somewhat by what is often considered the greater film in it’s sequel Triad Election, but I think Election certainly has to be seen by all fans of To and those looking to get into his films or Triad Election. It certainly helps the audience to better understand some characters and their motivations. Election, if there is a problem with it, could be the pace of the film which I will say is quite deliberate in how much it takes to get moving. As stated earlier, Election is certainly a tense film but it takes the audience member sitting back and becoming immersed within the film. I personally had no problems and found myself completely wrapped up in the swapping of good guys for bad guys and the inevitable betrayals, alliances and sabotage. Some, however, feel differently. I can certainly see where viewers are coming from with the criticisms, but like a great love – it’s hard to truly be blind to bias when you are so wrapped up in the vision of a filmmaker or a certain cinematic rythm that speaks to you.