Hong Kong’s Johnny To is nothing less than prolific, despite a heavy producing schedule he still manages to helm at least two pictures a year - but he could never be accused of getting stuck in a rut when it comes to genre. Since hitting the scene in the Eighties he has tackled everything from comedies (Love On A Diet) and action films (Fulltime Killer) through to a modern, Macau-based take on the spaghetti western (the recently released Exiled) and noir (PTU).

Election 2, sees him venturing back into the same Godfather-style territory he explored in Election. Transporting the political gangland machinations from the US to Hong Kong, the story concerns the periodic struggle to become the kingpin of a triad gang. Simon Yam reprises the role of Lam Lok from the first instalment. Now head of the clan, he is keen to cling to power but faces stiff competition from a raft of young contenders.

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Most popular, though least keen to step up to the plate, is Jimmy Lee (Louis Koo), a businessman who, in the fashion of good Shakesperian tragedy, and in a similar manner to Al Pacino’s Michael in Scorcese’s superior exploration of the politics of illegal power, is destined to become involved whether he likes it or not.

The biggest problem is the slow-moving nature of the plot. Eschewing any sort of violent grandstanding until a good two-thirds of the way through, many of To’s action fans may find things a bit too talky. Also the script, at least in translation, frequently dips into fondue territory (such as when Jimmy’s missus, after being dragged up a hill to see the spot where he wants to build their dreamhouse, utters the cheddar-laden line: “I just us want to be together”). Equally, because there are so many characters – a raft of ‘uncles’ – the gang old guard – and ‘grandsons’ – the up-and-comers - it is sometimes hard to keep track of who is double-crossing whom.

When violence arrives it comes with the bang of a very large mallet and may prove too rich for those who have been lulled by what has gone before. That said, it does provide one of the most tense and well-shot scenes in the film, although Jimmy’s transition from would-be legitimate businessman to Machiavellian murderer feels slightly farfetched. There are problems with tone on occasion, too. There is clearly an attempt to set up a sequel going on in a subplot concerning Lok’s son and To regular Lam Suet is criminally underused as comedy fodder, Fat Head.

Whatever he lacks in narrative drive, however, To is still the master of style, with his camerawork never short of impressive and innovative, and the performances are never less than on the button. Maybe the third instalment – doubtless in the pipeline – will be the charm for this particular mob saga.

Reviewed on: 31 Oct 2007
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Triad gang underlings vie for the top job.
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Director: Johnny To

Writer: Yau Nai Hoi, Yip Tin Shing

Starring: Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Nick Cheung, Lam Ka Tung, Lam Suet, Cheung Siu Fai, Wong Tin Lam, Mark Cheng, Tam Ping Man

Year: 2006

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Hong Kong


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