First in the series from the modern master of Hong Kong cine
MutantChaos | 12/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Election is the first film in this gangster series (Triad Election is the sequel) from the greatest filmmaker currently working in Hong Kong, Johnnie To. If you aren't familiar with Mr. To's work, imagine John Woo with less action (at least in this film - watch Exiled, another top notch film, for more action oriented To fare) but a much better handle on story and storytelling than Woo ever had. This is less action/thrills oriented than Infernal Affairs (which it is sometimes compared to), but I think Election is a much better film.
The simple synopsis - two mob bosses, one all business and one all bluster, compete for leadership of their gang. When the election doesn't go the way some want, all hell breaks loose, threatening the stability of the already teetering Hong Kong underworld.
Tony Leung Ka Fai won the acting award for his Nicholson-esqe over-the-top performance as the loud mouth, obnoxious mob boss, but it is Simon Yam that really shines in his role - the transformation of his character over the course of this film is a 2-hour acting lesson that totally blew me away.
The U.S. DVD has all the special features that were on the Hong Kong 2-Disc Special Edition, but at a nicer price, and the transfer is excellent. I can't recommend this film enough, and the Tartan DVD is the way to go.
Attention Canadians - the Canadian release (not from Tartan) is bare-bones, this is the one to get if you are interested in special features!"
The consequences of power - potent storytelling from a Hong
Nathan Andersen | Florida | 08/06/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Wo Shing triad is the oldest and most powerful gang in Hong Kong; they are also unique in their time-honored tradition of holding democratic elections among the various leaders for the big boss or chairman of the triad.This time around, succession will not happen without a fight. The two leading candidates have very different approaches to leadership, and neither can effectively lead while the other retains his strength. While "Big D" craves power for its own sake, "Lok" is a shrewd businessman and devoted father who sees crime as a means to an end and values stability, peace and tradition. When it comes time for a new leader, and "Big D" refuses to accept defeat, it looks like civil war within the triad is imminent.
Hong Kong director Johnnie To can do violence While I tend to prefer the stylistic flourishes of another major Hong Kong director, Wong Kar-Wai, there's no denying that Johnnie To's approach has a broader appeal, but doesn't dumb things down in the Hollywood blockbuster style. What is remarkable in this film is the restraint and the emphasis on the difficult choices that a leader, even a criminal leader, must make. There is no gun play, which is not to say that there is no brutal violence, but much of the action involves conversation. In the world depicted here it's not brutality but intelligence that prevail - though part of what the film shows is that a leader in this world has to be prepared to get his hands dirty. Since it is about the succession of power and the meaning of honor among organized criminals, "Election" deserves to be compared to Coppola's The Godfather (though a more apt comparison may be with GoodFellas). While they are very different films, both in tone and context and cultural background, they are both very effective in conveying the weight of tradition as it comes into conflict with greed and ambition. Both also focus on the moral impact on a leader of the means necessary to consolidate power. Finally, both are shot in a distinctive and effective style, and put the importance on character over chaotic action, but don't shy from conveying the brutality of mob violence. When violence does erupt in this film, it's not stylized and it's not pretty. Unlike a good deal of Hong Kong film, the criminals are not glamorized here, though neither is the law. It all comes to a devastating and powerful climax (about which I'll say nothing to avoid spoilers), where it is the subtle touches (the frightened monkeys, for example, and the son's looks) that add weight and poignancy together a violent episode.
Highly recommended for lovers of inventive Asian cinema and for its fresh take on the gangster film."
A good crime drama well worth watching if only to set up the
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 10/21/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Despite a tight narrative, Johnnie To's Election feels at times like it was once a longer picture, with many characters and plot strands abandoned or ultimately unresolved. Some of these are dealt with in the truly excellent and far superior sequel, Election 2: Harmony is a Virtue, but it's still a dependably enthralling thriller about a contested Triad election that bypasses the usual shootouts and explosions (though not the violence) in favor of constantly shifting alliances that can turn in the time it takes to make a phone call. It's also a film where the most ruthless character isn't always the most threatening one, as the chilling ending makes only too clear: one can imagine a lifetime of psychological counselling being necessary for all the trauma that one inflicts on one unfortunate bystander.
Extras on the 2-disc set aren't over-plentiful, but the interviews with Johnnie To, Simon Yam (always at his best under To's direction, and possibly never better here), Wang Tianlin and Tony Leung Ka Fei are more in-depth and thoughtful than usual. Also included are a brief featurette (like the interviews subtitled in English), stills galleries, 2 unsubtitled TV spots, 2 unsubtitled theatrical trailers, and booklet."
Behaviors occurring behind the scenes in the modern world
Pork Chop | Lisbon, Portugal | 10/08/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"ELECTION (Hak Se Wui, 1995) starring Simon Yam (reprising his role as
a triad godfather as seen in CASINO 1997 by Billy Tang, for ex§) is a
movie intended for fans of this genre, underlying the testosterone,
discipline and ancient traditions aspects of masculinity.
Either the script's writer had a bad nightmare on which this movie
was constructed, or the writer simply decided to show a very limited,
narrow range of what comprises humanity, and understanding the latter
either poorly, or not heving been exposed to very much of it, in
The aforementioned aspects seems to eat away at the classy aspects
that a picture craves, this film suffering also from the homicidal
behavior that the movie shows at the 90 min mark.
The strong point of this picture, is a story centering on the
election of a triad successor, which the audience will recognize as
similar to modern politics. Any strategy is good, to get to the top
...payoffs to electors preparing to cast their votes to win their
favor, maneuvering, violence, kidnappings, brutality, financial
enticements all the while, with a law enforcement presence that
delays, complicates and hinders the entire underground electoral
Key street-level bosses are called in a meeting, to vote for one
candidate or another, raising their hand to signal their approval.
Interestingly, the defeated candidates don't abandon victory so soon
or easily, fully conscious that it's fully possible to gain the upper
hand and coerce opponents with some effort and skill, from their
genetic make-ups as triad leaders having climbed to the top, to the
point of being candidates for the top dog position.
The film is no-nonsense, preferring to show only professional
dealings vs. a wide spectrum of emotions, such as humor, sex,
drinking, amusement or other lighter sides of things, which is
unrealistic, in terms of accepting the proposition overall in terms
of both private and public lives that make up these trial people.
An aspect underlined is loyalty, an oath taken by soldiers in the
triad, to the point that, a member is made to break his porcelain
spoon, crack it and eat it on the orders of his boss, without
questioning, much as military soldiers are trained to do, in a
pavlovian reaction. Other instances show the ruthlessness and
willingness to die openly admitted by members, in favor of their
gang, their minds stamped with the triad's codified rules of conduct,
as a brotherhood, with and loyalty standing above everything else.
Cash generating activities are referenced, such as drugs, gambling,
black market reselling of tainted chickens and commodities, etc.
The filming is very good, with a pleasing high-quality widescreen,
showing Hong Kong, mostly in closed meetings, versus open air,
outdoor locations, from which the movie somewhat suffers, coupled
with a decision to create suspense and tension over 1 hour over the
pursuit of a dragon baton symbol.
A sarcastic criticism of the law, is made, when a top law officer is
presented, and openly admits having reached the top of the echelon by
having agreed early in his career to infiltrate a gang, betray their
trust, later busting them with incriminating evidence, suggesting
dishonorable conduct among that law officers, and that they, the
triad members, are the true honorable men, self-righteous as they
The difficulty in controlling 50,000 to 300,000 men, all belonging to
underground triad organizations is understood by these, which limits
the range of crackdowns they can carry out.
A clear decision was made to limit action scenes in the movie, and to
limit the presence of guns and bullets almost entirely, which eats
away at the entertainment aspects of the movie, too.
Overall, in addition to the above aspects, ELECTION will interest
those viewers who tend to believe there is more than what meets in
the eye, in terms of cash flows, businesses, commerce, and political
icons in the modern world.
There are behaviors occurring behind the scenes, secret
organizations, not unlike Freemasonry for example. Also those who are
at the top, much like the boss in any corporation, only with much
difficulty will relinquish his position. More likely, they are
ever-vigilant of any new competitor arriving to whom the godfather
position in the triad, consciously, or unconsciously, appeals to
them, and will take them out if needed, promptly."