Johnnie To still has it. The auteur makes a long-awaited return to Hong Kong cinemas with Election. A gritty take on the Hong Kong triad genre.
Election details the decisions and consequences facing the Wo Sing Society. A storied Hong Kong triad that’s looking to fill its Chairman role. In this corner: Big D (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), a charismatic, brash, and temperamental boss who attempts to bribe and bully his way into the Chairman’s seat. In the other corner: Lok (Simon Yam or Nham Dat Hoa), a calm, collected, and cooly professional triad leader, who promises expansion and a steady guiding hand. Who will win, the tiger or the pussycat? And is either one really what they appear to be? And will Louis Koo fans be upset when they realize their tanned idol isn’t in the film that much? The answer to all the above questions: who cares? This is a good Hong Kong movie (phim xa hoi den hong kong), and that’s about all that matters.
The general story of Election (Long Dau Con) is nothing to write home about. Basically, the Wo Sing Society needs a new chairperson, and it’s down to Lok and Big D. Big D has already bribed a couple of the “Uncles”, the senior triad members with all the political pull. He’s hoping the money gets him in, but as Uncle Teng (Wong Tin-Lam) instructs the other Uncles. It’s not the money that matters but unity.
Teng favors the in-control Lok over loose cannon Big D, and at his urgings. The Uncles give in and elect Lok. However, Lok won’t officially be the leader until he gains possession of the Dragon Head baton, a revered symbol of leadership that must be delivered to him. Smarting from his ignominious loss, Big D sets out to intercept the baton, whereupon every boss and small potato in the Wo Sing Society starts to get involved. If you secure the baton you’ll either A) be a hero, or B) have plenty of pull.
The incredibly-tanned Jimmy (Louis Koo) wants to get the baton to avenge his boss, who had the indignity of being locked in a wooden crate and shoved down a hill by Big D. However, various other lower-level triad dudes have been assigned to the case, including the overly-righteous Big Head (Lam Suet), his stuttering partner Soo (Eddie Cheung), fab maroon-shirted Kun (Gordon Lam), and the fanatically loyal – and possibly rabid – Jet (Nick Cheung). The cops (led by Shaw Brothers staple David Chiang) detain all the high-level players in hopes of stopping an all-out gang war, while the small potatoes run across the border and back in an effort to get the baton. Double-crosses and assorted triad hijinks ensue.
Having multiple factions go after the baton leads to the expected run-ins. Though the results are as funny as they are ironic and absurd. Basically, two guys go at it with their lives possibly at stake. But the bottom line is they’re working for the same side. This is only discovered after some brutal violence, e.g. Kun smacking Big Head around with a massive log, or Jet getting multiple stab wounds from the omnipresent triad choppers (in an ultra-realistic move, Election features no gunplay at all). Jet and Jimmy seem initially opposed when jockeying for the baton, but end up on the same side when Big D’s men engage Jet in a five-on-one standoff. These action scenes are staged with the slow-burn threat of violence and sudden jolts of brutality. And when they happen they’re riveting. Unfortunately, there are very few of these action sequences.