Johnnie To’s Election 2 proves that once you’re in – you’re in for life.
“We all came to Hong Kong seeking a better life. To succeed and prosper we must live in harmony. When disputes arise, we must negotiate a solution, before resorting to force. If a conflict can’t be avoided, a date will be set for duel. But the authorities shall never hear of this. We should adopt the rules of Hung Society. United under its philosophy. The brethren shall live together peacefully.”
Organised crime, they say, is hard to leave, to say the least. In the 2006 sequel, Election 2, Jimmy Lee (Louis Koo) finds this out the hard way when he tries to abandon the Wo Shin Triad society in order to start a legitimate business in China, only to get caught up in a crooked financial trade and arrested. He is told by the Section Chief of the Public Security Bureau that he had been forbidden to start his business in China unless he runs for Chairman of the Wo Shin. Jimmy is left with no choice.
It’s been two years since the end of the last movie. Lok (Simon Yam) is contemplating running again – breaking tradition – which is met with both approval and displeasure from some of his fellow Uncles. When he learns that Jimmy might be running, a war begins to stir within the organisation. Key figures and familiar faces are brought in, sides are switched and men are fed to dogs. It’s a brutal, bloody fight to the top, but who will survive long enough to make it there?
Full disclosure here: I’ve not seen Election. I came into Election 2 thinking it was a standalone movie, sold to me under its US title Triad Election, so I had to do a bit of catching up at first and so some of the finer points regarding the interactions between the characters were almost definitely lost on me. Nevertheless, Election 2 holds up pretty well on its own once you get into it. The story doesn’t rely entirely on previous knowledge (though I imagine that definitely helps), and is able to work on its own, just about.
By focusing not on Simon Yam’s Lok – the principle character from the first movie – and instead Jimmy, we’re given a relatively fresh character to latch on to, watch develop, and ultimately root for. Though I do use that word hesitantly: we get that Jimmy just wants to have his big house and his kids, and let them grow up to be doctors, but it’s not like he’s an innocent man. In fact – and this might be due to not having seen the first film – it’s difficult to really tell who you’re supposed to like at the beginning. Even as the movie unfolds it is something of a grey area. But hey, it’s a crime movie: if there were obvious good and bad guys, it wouldn’t be as good.
As for the cinematics of it? Johnnie To does some good work with his camera here, though it isn’t one of his artier projects (look to Exiled for really stylistic stuff), there’s evidence that the people the film are experienced and know what they’re doing. To would have to try really hard to make a film look bad. The production is confident, even if it doesn’t take all that many risks. It’s almost shot to look more documenatry-style, as if he’s trying to push the realism with both the content and the style (the violence tends to be quick, brutal and treated seriously), and this works considering the film’s political angle.
Is it the best movie he’s ever done? Probably not, but it’s still very good. That I can say it without knowing how it affects the world of Election, or improves on the first film, is definitely a positive. Yau Nai-Hoi and Yip Tin-Shing’s script is filled with interesting characters, good story moments and a pretty tragic message. Louis Koo does a lot of good work here, but the same can be said for the rest of the star-studded cast. They take their characters and work life into them: the biggest risk a gangster film with a lot of characters faces is making too many of its side characters the same. Thankfully the writing and the actors work together to avoid this. Election 3 is set to be released next year, and with To perfectly setting the pieces in place for a third film, it will be interesting to see how things play out. And I’ll have probably seen Election by that point, too.
Verdict: Deep, stylish and entertaining, Election 2 is Johnnie To showing us his strengths, but be sure to watch the first movie before.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Triads: I had no idea they were so democratic
Funny moments: Considerably more than I would have thought.
Nastiest scene award: Dog food.
Election 2 (2006)
Also known as: 黑社会2：以和为贵 (Black Society: Harmony is a Virtue), Triad Election
Director: Johnnie To
Writers: Yau Nai-Hoi, Yip Tin-Shing
Louis Koo – Jimmy Lee
Simon Yam – Lam Lok
Nick Cheung – Jet
Cheung Siu-fai – Mr. So
Lam Suet – Big Head
Gordon Lam – Kun
Wong Tin-lam – Uncle Teng Wai
Tam Ping-man – Uncle Cocky
Mark Cheng – Bo
Andy On – Lik
You Yong – Mr Xi
Poon Yuet-tung – Janice
Cheung Mo-hau – Mr Shu
Yuen Bun – Incense Master
Jonathan Lee – Denny
Wong Sze-yan – Chak
Chiu Chi-shing – Long Hair
Law Keung – Brother Snake
Alan Chui – Uncle Tank
Yu Yuen-yin – Uncle Long Gun
Tong Pau-chung – Uncle Chiu Chow
Chan Siu-pang – Uncle Monk
Cheung Chi-ping – Uncle Dead Dog