review by Neo

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Tagline: A top notch thriller and perhaps the Asian Godfather...

Finally, I got the motivation to review movies again and what a way to kick off 2006 - a time of year, where everyone is busy with whatever they are doing. Election is a movie that Neo watched way back in November last year and to be honest, I wasn't that impressed when I left the cinemas. Maybe it is because of my friends sitting beside me panning, how stupid and simple the movie is, but to me, I was just in the "thinking process". As a result, I never got around to actually writing the review until watching the movie on DVD last week. Johnny To is a prolific director, frequently employs a very simple storyline, veteran actors and his trademark style - eccentrically twisted ending. Somehow To's work isn't rubbish, and even to an extent lending towards art, but at the same time equally commercial. Perhaps this is what you call HKs commercial art cinema and once again To's doesn't disappoint as he produces one of his better works since 1999's The Mission.

The movie goes like this: The time has come, as it does every two years, for the senior members of Hong Kong’s oldest Triad, the Wo Shing Society, to elect a new chairman. Fierce rivalries emerge between the two eligible candidates. Lok, respected by the Uncles is the favourite to win. But his rival Big D will stop at nothing to change this, including going against hundreds of years of Triad tradition and influencing the vote with money and violence.

Election is a very traditional movie, and one that follows the Chinese Triad Tradition very closely, constantly linking back to the days where triads, not the police literally ruled the streets in the utmost legal manner. Those were the days, where triad are hardcore, tough nut and striving for a particular goal - overturning the government and as we approaches the 21st century style, it has become a business and the goal is not to overthrow the current government, but rather the endless aim and pursue of money. It is ironic to realize that it is just another job for the unemployed rather than being in the triad for triad sake. To is without doubt a clever and witty director who gives his characters life and in return creating a menacing performances from its leads and more in the name of Tony Leung Ka Fai.

Ka Fai turns in an amazing performance - devastating, menacing, ambitious yet flawed. It is the flaws within his character that makes him all the more realistic and relating. The movie ends with a immoral yet true message - if you want to enter the triad, then you have to be the best, or else - just quit! This statement is particular true as the audience endures through the harsh and brutal reality that Ka Fai is forced to face. Sure he was ambitious or at worst too ambitious, but what happened to him isn't fair - then again since when was entering the triad smart decision in the first place. What Neo admires about Election, that it is not trying to promote the glory and uplifting of being a triad leader, but rather that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The facial expressions within Simon Yam's face as he is being elected as the leader of the pack, is one of a smile with a huge fire behind. Sure, he promised great things, but power do corrupts and it is little what power can do to even the kindest of human beings. Perhaps it is human nature to be tempted to go down the evil path, or perhaps it is the only way to ,maintain power in such a commercial world. No matter what, Yam at the end has transformed into monster - from humaneness to absolute disgrace to humanity. This is what made Ka Fai's character all the more tragic - apart from not being able to star in the sequel (which is already in works), his transformation is very human. It just shows that how one wrong can lead to greater wrong - namely murdering defenseless and innocent in order to protect the ones in power. This sparks to conversation I had with a long time friend a while ago, where we jokingly and seriously discussed about how small mistakes can lead to bigger ones and eventually murder. It is good to have ambition as it what drives the world around in circle from love, but to what extent are you willing to risk for your ambition - at what costs?

Johnny To is one of Neo's favourite director, as ever since Running Out of Time, I have kept a constant watch on every one of his movies. It is simple and usually rehash some other older movies, but what it does best is making me think - about what? The good thing about To is that everything he has something to say, and here it is about power and tradition. Election embraces the point that there is nothing graceful being a triad and no matter which angle you see it, a triad is still brutal, inhumane and flawed. A boring yet intriguing theme that combines well with some menacing and brutal displays, To has created something worth watching and that's alone is saying a lot. Love it or hate it, a sequel is coming and no matter what I have booked a seat or two in anticipation. All in all, Election isn't a triad movie, but rather a movie about triads living within a triad world. It isn't the most assessable film, but it sure is one of 2005 HK cinema's few bright spots, even if Cherrie Ying got edited out...oh damn it!

I rate it 9/10

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Genre: Triad Drama
Director: Director: Johnnie To Kei-Fung
Cast: Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Maggie Siu Mei-Kei, Louis Koo Tin-Lok
Reviewed by Andrew (Neo), January 2006