Friday, 22 October 2010

E Is For Election

Title: Election
Director: Johnnie To
Released: 2005
Staring: Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, Ka Tung Lam, Siu-Fai Cheung, Suet Lam, Tian-lin Wang, Ping-Man Tam, Maggie Siu, David Chiang

Plot: With the two year term having passed for the chairman of the Wo Shing Society, the elders have now narrowed the running down to two candidates Lok (Yam) and Big D (Leung). When Lok is elected Big D is infuriated and plots to take the sacred dragon headed baton of leadership for himself, throwing the society into chaos as the battle lines are quickly drawn between the supporters of Lok and Big D

Review: In the crime movie world the Triads have always lacked having a decent movie to represent them, the Mafia have countless great movies, including some pretty notable editions to cinema history such as “Goodfellas” (1990) and “The Godfather” (1972) and even the Yakuza have great movies like “Tokyo Drifter” (1966) and “Brother” (2000), though for some reason I’ve always failed to find one movie which could represent the Triads solely in the way that the aforementioned films represented their chosen crime families. That was until I saw “Election” and I knew that finally they had found the movie to represent their (certainly morally questionable) cause.

Unlike so many other triad movies, Director To brings a sense of class and order finally to the Triads, who were traditionally seen in other films as street gangs and more frequently seen without any sense of honour, both of which he has brought back, by establishing the Triads as families deeply grounded in ancient tradition, with the elders ensuring that these traditions are followed by the younger members who form the lower ranks. Meanwhile the police are seen as maintaining a delicate balance with the Triads, with Chief Superintendant Hui (Chiang) clearly knowing, how beneficial maintaining this balance is, if only to prevent all out war erupting amongst the members of the society, as he sets about arresting the key senior triad members in a bid to aid the election process, even allowing meetings to still be held while he has key members in custody.

Another noteworthy point is that for a gangster film the violence is actually pretty restrained with not a single gunshot fired. Still this is not to say that it is completely void of violence, as we are barely into the film, before we have not only witnessed the young and hot-headed Triad member Jet (Ka Fai) eating a porcelain bowl, after disgracing himself in front of Big D, but also another two senior members being nailed into wooden crates and rolled down a hill repeatedly, for their part in Big D losing out on the position of chairman, with To’s sole violent extravagance coming in the form of a Machete street fight. Still despite these occasional moment of violence To prefers to let his characters talk things out, rather than using to brute force and blind violence, something which only further emphasises his vision of a civilised Triad society, something that he sets the scene with right from the beginning as we watch the elders or Uncles as they are better know discussing civilly the candidates for the new chairman, showing like Coppla did with “The Godfather” that crime can indeed be civilised and make for an interesting contrast to the two diffrent styles of leadership between the two men, with Big D who’d much rather bully his way into the position of chairman, threatening and torturing those who stand in his way or refuse to accept his bribes and it's this quick to violence nature of Big D makes for great comparisons in leadership styles for Lok is essentially the complete opposite, with Lok using his calm nature and negotiation skills to get what he wants, something that truly plays to his advantage during the second half of the film, as the two men seek out the baton, which has been hidden away somewhere in China, yet its these powers of negotiation that also lead to one of the more darkly comic moments of the film, as we watch one gang member pummelling another almost to death with a log, only for the two men to then discover that they are both working for Lok.

Even though there are numerous colourful characters in this society it is still essentially a two man show with Yam, skilfully bringing the quiet and almost lifeless Lok alive and far from the potential dull character he could have been, saving his true colour for the truly chilling finale, while Leung busily chews up the scenery and despite the fact that he is so quick to violence, there is still a line being drawn between his desire for power and being a pure psycho, as Big D clearly feels the position of chairman should have been his, using his loyalty to the society and money which he has earned them as the justification for this thinking, even after he realises the legitimacy of the election. Still such extreme opposites, is something To is especially keen to emphasise, while painting the larger picture of the society as the differences between the two candidates soon begins to effect the society as a whole, as the Uncles are shown bickering at each other about the pro’s for each man, while lower members battle amongst themselves, blindly following the orders of the candidate they have aligned themselves to, with the society times looking more like a dysfunctional family than a tradition bound Triad society. Still To is keen to emphasise the tradition side of the society, with scenes of the baton passing ceremony and brothers swearing loyalty to the brotherhood, though in the end this is essentially just tradition being followed and in no way, seems to affect any of their actions which is far more controlled by things such as money, power and personal loyalties.

To with this film takes, what has until now been a largely throwaway sub-genre of Hong Kong cinema and finally gives the Triads, the crime masterpiece they have been sorely lacking. While it might be much subtler than other Triad movies, it still manages to pack a punch and while the sequel might be lacking the charm of this film, it still stands well on its own and is probably best viewed as such, especially as the sequel only really takes away from the original, which is not only intelligent and exciting film making, but also a thrilling ride through the Triad underworld, which proves that you don’t need to drown the screen in claret and foul language to make a great crime movie.

1 comment:

  1. oh... that says eLection.

    my mistake...

    i blame the whole Asian L & R thing... y'know?


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