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  Election 2  
  |     review     |     notes     |     availability     |  
 


We're so cool: From left to right, Nick Cheung, Eddie Cheung, Lam Suet, and Louis Koo in Election 2.
 
Chinese: 黑社會2 以和為貴
  Year: 2006    
  Director: Johnnie To Kei-Fung    
  Writer: Yau Nai-Hoi, Yip Tin-Shing    
  Cast: Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Wong Tin-Lam, You Yong, Lam Suet, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Nick Cheung Ka-Fai, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Mark Cheng Ho-Nam, Andy On Chi-Kit, Tam Ping-Man  
The Skinny: A sequel that makes sense. Election 2 takes the themes and stories presented in the original film and brings them to a logical and ingeniously appropriate end. Those who found the first film boring or unexciting will likely not find Election 2 much better, but fans of the first should be very pleased. So far, this is the class of 2006.  
 
  Review
by Kozo:

Last fall, Election was the forceful bludgeoning Hong Kong Cinema naysayers needed. Johnnie To's guide to triad-run democracy was an entertaining, meticulously assembled, and impressively controlled filmmaking tour de force by the veteran director - and easily the most accomplished Hong Kong film of the year. To returns to rescue Hong Kong Cinema again with Election 2, a quick but astoundingly effective sequel that logically extends upon the storylines and themes presented in the original film. In Election we got an exhilarating cinema primer on the triad election process, and a peek at Hong Kong's cold-blooded soul. Election 2 is less exhilarating, but it compensates by doubling the cold-blooded factor, plus it serves up an ingenious reveal on the death of the election process. It's early and there hasn't been much competition, but Election 2 is so far the best Hong Kong film of 2006.

It's been two years since Lok (Simon Yam) bested Big D (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) for the chairperson seat of the Wo Sing triad, and it's election time again. Lok has had a decent run, but tradition demands a new head take charge every two years. The candidates for Wo Sing's new chairperson include Kun (Gordon Lam), whose edginess and sense of entitlement recall Big D's, and the still-rabid Jet (Nick Cheung), who's only a candidate because Lok has fooled him into thinking he's one. Some people want Jimmy (Louis Koo) to run, but he's too busy making money with his pirate VCD factories to care. That suits Lok just fine; as revealed at the end of Election 1, Lok is more ambitious and blindly power-hungry than he initially seemed to be. Now that he's been in charge for two years, he's reluctant to let the seat go. And we mean really reluctant.

However, the smart pick is still Jimmy, and he even has the support of many of the "uncles" (led by the returning Wong Tin-Lam). Jimmy is adamant about not entering the fray, but he does a double-take when his business prospects get threatened. Chinese Inspector Xi (You Yong) is polite but firm about barring Jimmy's businesses from the Mainland, the implication being that Jimmy needs to have major rank in Wo Sing to gain pull with the party muck-a-mucks. The threat of lost greenbacks is enough to give Jimmy second thoughts; he throws his hat in the ring. Lok is already convinced that he can be Wo Sing's chairperson for a second term, and manipulates Kun and Jet into helping support his bid. But Jimmy is a smart guy, meaning he won't give in to Lok's ambition - and he definitely won't go fishing with the guy. With the line drawn, each candidate squares off for a mano-a-mano election. Planned double-crosses, crafty chicanery, and plenty of slow-burn buildup follow, as the two triad heavyweights jockey for the lead. Ultimately, it becomes clear that there's only one sure way to win the election: kill the other guy. And the battle begins.

And what a battle it isn't. Like the first film, Election 2 is not home to Mexican standoffs, blazing gun battles, or massive Young and Dangerous chopper battles. No, the big battles in Election 2 are fought with brains and behind-the-scenes chess matches involving kidnapping, threatened dismemberment, and good old-fashioned logic. The result threatens to be snooze-central, as much of the film's early going seems to drag, and more often than not the buildup leads to a conversation instead of red-blooded violence. But the threat of violence is always present, and the tension Johnnie To creates is rock-solid enough to bludgeon a person. Election 2 is the type of movie where someone could jump into frame and suddenly club someone else and it would never feel inappropriate or unwarranted. These guys are ugly, morally unbridled people who will resort to nasty stuff to get the votes. Truth and just cause are not important here; what's important is getting what you want, and using everyone around you to do it. Winning an election requires tough, bloody, and sometimes stomach-churning action, and both Lok and Jimmy are willing to dirty their hands and feet to get the job done. And they do, in a sometimes gory fashion that will probably please those looking for some hint of meaty Category III thrills. When it really gets going, Election 2 isn't morally murky, it's pitch black.

Election 2's lack of happy times does provide a black comic thrill, but it actually makes the film less fun than Election 1. The first film struck an audience chord in its Lok vs. Big D dynamic, as each perfectly exemplified an expected triad type. Big D was brash, self-aggrandizing, and insecure, while Lok was cool, charismatic, and seemingly righteous. The juxtaposition between the two gave Election 1 its audience identification, and Lok was easy to root for, as his righteousness and coolly logical decision-making made him the charismatic odds-on pick - that is, until he was revealed to be two-faced and cruel, and probably the worst fishing buddy in the history of time. The film was entertaining and satisfying up until Johnnie To pulled the rug out from underneath the audience, and the resulting ugliness probably left some people with a bad aftertaste. But it was fun while it lasted, and upon reflection, the film was a resounding thematic success.

In contrast, Election 2 is much less fun, but it takes the lesson from Election 1 - that to play the game, you have to be a bastard - and pushes it full force. The extremity of Jimmy and Lok's competition is morbidly fascinating, but To finds other ways to entertain. To milks some welcome laughs out of the film's black situations thanks to his usual deadpan absurdities, ironic repetition, or moments of obtuse humor. The supporting actors, including returnees Lam Suet and Eddie Cheung, are funny without being cloying, and Mark Cheng is very cool as Jimmy's amoral, money-loving muscle. Simon Yam is charming and chilling as Lok, Nick Cheung is compelling and intense as Jet, and Louis Koo brings a materialistic gravity to his portrayal of Jimmy. His character has grown in command and stature since the first film, and it's very clear why Jimmy enters the election. Jimmy is a modern Hong Kong character, i.e. he's the guy who's doing it for dough and for the material comfort of his growing family. He's not in it for the glory, the prestige, or the power. He just wants the cash. And by becoming chairperson, he'll get it.

But he'll also get more than he bargained for. In Election 1, winning was based on how the boys played the game, but in Election 2, it's the game that plays the boys. Whereas the first film ended with a figurative and literal blow to the head, Election 2's final kicker is less a knockout punch than an insidious slow-acting poison administered when you weren't paying attention. Johnnie To serves up an ending that's dull in execution, but ingenious in its fitting, logical growth. The Election films are as much about Hong Kong as they are about triad specifics, and with that sociopolitical baggage in mind, Election 2 takes on wicked significance that's sure to please local audiences - not to mention those worldwide who like to watch their cinema with political agendas in mind. It's cerebral rather than heady stuff, and will probably earn further ire from Hong Kong Cinema fans upset that Election 1's Category III rating was about triad content, and not sex, violence, and overdone histrionics. People looking for rock 'n roll gangster action should avoid both these films.

Election 2 still has its problems, as its slow-burn storytelling can tax even the most patient Johnnie To fans, and lack of audience connection can definitely alienate. But fans of the original Election should be pleased by Election 2's verbalized yet potent climax and even the film's quiet and oddly unsettling final moments. The mega-fan in all of us probably still wishes To would go make A Hero Never Dies 2, but Election 2 doesn't give us much room to complain. This is an accomplished, mature Hong Kong film that departs from the romantic and sometimes pandering themes of heroism and righteousness present in most Hong Kong gangster films, and trades them for a cold-blooded, heartless reality that's compelling because it seems to ring so true. If Election 3 is in the offing, we should all be so lucky. (Kozo 2006)

 
 
Notes: Election 2 seems to have solved the mystery of Andy On's involvement with the Election franchise, but rumored castmember (and Johnnie To regular) Cherrie Ying still is nowhere to be seen. Did she ever work on any of the Election movies at all?
• If you reached the end of this page, then we thank you for reading this rambling mess called a film review. We had fun writing it.
 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
2-Disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
   

image courtesy of Milky Way Image

 
   
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