Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

A modern gang war movie without a single gunshot? An interesting oddity, to be sure, but sadly Johnny To's latest is an all-too-serious and often witless black comedy.

Election concerns itself with the power struggle of a Triad election. A highly organised and ritualistic initiation ceremony bookends the film, a cheerfully ironic repetition of ancient and ultimately crime-blackened wisdom, clothed in virtue like a naked Emperor.

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As the film opens, the uncles discuss the candidates over tea, while the camera glides through their dimly lit home, complete with wives playing mah-jong (this film needs women as much as Das Boot) and children ushered from the room. Like The Godfather, crime can be civilised when we are separated from the victims. The candidates are Lok (Simon Yam), a highly respected and competent leader, and Big D (wallpaper-chewing Tony Leung Ka Fai), a brash, flamboyant and impulsive young gang lord.

Most events occur through meetings and mobile phone conversations - Big D threatens the other uncles, all the while torturing those who accepted his bribes and did not vote for him. Election eschews plot complexity, choosing to use most of the runtime to show myriad characters, each with their own axes to grind about the ensuing balance of power. And the police realise the futility of taking the Triads on, preferring to quell open war before it starts.

The most interesting characters, ironically, are those with the least screen time, specifically the youthful underlings, like Jet, eating a porcelain spoon to prove his loyalty to Big D, and fighting like an animal for his master. Big D and Lok may have been as single-mindedly loyal as him, but "times have changed; business is everything."

A stunningly muddled search for a mythic Dragon's Head Baton, which bestows final power on the new godfather, hampers the narrative for at least 30 minutes, taking us into mainland China with a kidnap, and back into Hong Kong for a chase through the city streets. This is before coming back strongly with a splendid, uncompromising finale, a violently comedic low-tech resolution to all the "heroic bloodshed". Indeed, the infrequent violence in Election remains up close and personal, where hit-and-runs and machete battles in the street are preferred over Woo-like slow-mo fetishing.

In essence, Election suffers from the same problems as Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. It is sporadically satisfying, but could either do with a lot more character detail, or cutting to size to let the plot sing through. Perhaps the greatly shortened 85-minute China cut did this kind of thing more to my taste.

Reviewed on: 09 Jun 2006
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Election packshot
The power struggle of a Triad election in Hong Kong.
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Director: Johnny To

Writer: Nai-Hoi Yau, Tin-Shing Yip

Starring: Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, Siu-Fai Cheung, Suet Lam, Ka Tung Lam, Tian-lin Wang, Maggie Siu

Year: 2005

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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