Election 2 (2006)
Directed by: Johnnie To
Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2007:
"Even criminals can serve their country".
This was the tagline in the teaser trailer for Election 2, the sequel to Johnnie To's hot triad drama from 2005. Ending on a shocking but appropriately thematic note, it probably could've stopped there and the entire populous wouldn't have noticed some stones were still unturned. But in the end, it's very clear Election was designed to be continued.
Armed with another Category III rating, most of the attractive cast plus a few new faces to accompany the saga, Election 2 sees Lok (Simon Yam) in the wake of having usurped power his way in the Wo Shing Triad Society. 2 years have passed and it's time for another election of a new chairman. Having clearly been a society of harmony in the minds of some, the plates starts shifting under everyone's feet as the struggle for power and the search for the leadership Baton is on once again...
Fitting to continue story-wise and thematically, we also know what kind of stylistic territory we will be in as well as the feel of Johnnie To's particular triad story (some doses of absurd, deadpan humour remains in the vision by the way). Again no gloss of the Young And Dangerous kind, cinematographer Cheng Siu-Keung playing with contrasts of light and dark and Johnnie To's scriptwriters furthering their downbeat portrayal of lost loyalty. Aiming for harmony by abandoning tradition and hypocritically preaching it at the same time. This time in the face of the coming 1997 handover so To have managed to sneak in a not so subtle but fitting, downbeat social commentary about the effects of a Chinese ruling over the triad world (applicable to the real world as well). Albeit talky and dangerously close to being a repetition of the first film, Election 2 pushes into overdrive in its second half and delivers a rousing statement worthy to be immersed in and worthy to criticize. You be the judge.
New election on the horizon and the on the surface a unified triad society has characters coming out of their holes to grab opportunities and power, with extreme measures utilized. Johnnie To's furthers Simon Yam's Lok in this regard as he is considered out of control despite his calm exterior. There's future changes ahead in an already turbulent hierarchy and as Louis Koo is now also a focus on the film, we see someone trying to play the new Chinese system in his favour. Jimmy clearly is a businessman first, just one in need to sink to low levels in order to achieve his goals and perhaps even make a difference. With new Big D's (I.e. the name of the character Tony Leung Ka-Fai played in Election) basically waiting for their shot, Jimmy has his plate full, Johnnie To has and in the end we as an audience as well.
With To favouring casting distinct figures, meaning he and Cheng Siu-Keung can rely on sparse source light to conjure up atmosphere around them, you begin to see a worrying similarity between the films slowly manifesting itself. Since its main story is the same, you will see various characters wanting to take center stage, using violence while the old guard (main one being Wong Tin-Lam's Uncle Teng) is trying to fulfill the need for harmony and tradition. If Election saw these old men watching their built up legacy harking back to the Ming Dynasty spiral out of control, there's precious little they can do to prevent sinking this time around. It's a free for all power struggle where few are safe but Johnnie To's status is.
In a way an ultimate showdown, To decides to echo the sudden, callous but sparse violent acts of the first film, only taken up quite a few notches. He establishes atmosphere throughout that is subdued in a very alluring way but that only registers favourably when we finally see a different film emerge. This established atmosphere stays reserved yet events register as extreme, high pitched noise in a stunning reel of true Category III rated violence. I do believe that To watches and creates scenarios that makes him sad. He and we are watching the true definition of loyalty vaporizing. Is anybody thinking ahead or is violence watched upon as puzzles solved for the next 2 steps ahead? It definitely feels like it and it's hardly the central characters who are controlling the final outcome. As for the mentioned criticism, I can only put up a warning flag that especially the violence could also be viewed upon as naive statement just wanting to draw attention to itself but that's all up to you. I know where I stand.
I was sad to see Lam Suet being utilized very little in this film but his character briefly brings up the very central point of the triad lifestyle being an endless cycle and a one-way ticket. This notion trickles down between the cracks to the characters of Lok and Jimmy, both portrayed with suitable stone cold craziness by Simon Yam and Louis Koo. There's even time to examine the effect our behaviour has on the children born into this world, main focus on that coming through Yam's character. Whether or not he truly cares, that's a point you have to ponder and it can even be disturbing to do so. With my reservations of the first film being light on Koo's and also Nick Cheung's story, Johnnie To closes the arcs fairly well here, establishing Koo's agenda and desires as well as Cheung's position as a supporting player in the story. Worth noting is a semi-comeback for Mark Cheng who turned to Category III psycho roles during the late 90s and while this is such a role, it's a fitting contribution to To's frame of mind here.
While not classic Milkyway, despite having 2 movies to try and accomplish that, Johnnie To closes the Election saga in fine fashion. Conclusion is downbeat, corresponding to real life concerns of the Hong Kong people approaching 1997 and he rightfully allows himself to opt for an intensified portrayal of all things concerned. Stylistically familiar yet compelling in the way he uses profiles and figures in the dark, literally and thematically, few does atmosphere better than Johnnie To when in his element. "Safe" at home in Hong Kong that is.
Panorama presents the film in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 approximately, with anamorphic enhancement. The print comes with slight dirt at a few points but does seem to respect the conscious dark, drab and colourless tone of the film. No complaints here.
The mixed Cantonese/Mandarin language track in Dolby Digital 2.0 sounds clear and crisp, especially in the way it presents Lo Tayu's magnificent score. Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-ES options are also available for this soundtrack as well as a Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 dub.
The English subtitles are free of obvious grammar errors or spelling mistakes and are very easy to follow. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are the other options.
Buyers have the option to settle for a bare bonus 1 disc edition of the film but also for the 2 disc special edition. In the always welcome move by Panorama, the crucial supplemental features are equipped with optional English subtitles (as well as a set of Chinese). The now standard Exclusive interview with director Johnnie To is shorter than usual (11 minutes, 56 seconds) but the always open To covers some worthwhile ground. He explains the expectations of his new work overseas, why Hong Kong therefore remains the best platform for his films, the value of the history of triads and character choices for Election 2. Wish it had been allowed to go on for 20 minutes more but the program is still welcome obviously.
Exclusive interviews with actors serves up sessions with supporting players Lam Suet (17 minutes, 18 seconds) and Gordon Lam (14 minutes, 16 seconds). Lam Suet thankfully elaborates on his background going from being a grip to now being a highly regarded supporting actor, a traumatic experience working on Running Out Of Time 2, deleted scenes from Election 2, the real life spoon eating incident he was actually involved in and the precious master-student relationship he has with director To.
(from the Lam Suet and Gordon Lam interviews)
Gordon Lam covers topics such as changes in the character of Kun between the films, what inspirations to draw upon in regards to that, his favourite scene, deleted material that ended up in the trailer and how he got hurt during the filming of an action scene. An enthusiastic Lam is a benefactor for this interview and I'm always amazed how various actors can dish out such balanced praise towards Johnnie To. No stock answers here. They draw upon individual experiences rather.
The making-of documentary (7 minutes, 1 second) contains interviews with Johnnie To (from the same session as the program above so there is some slight overlapping of content), Louis Koo and co-writer Yau Nai Hoi. A mature and quite somber piece, it concerns itself mostly with discussing where Hong Kong is now after the handover and how the themes of the film fits into that. The theatrical trailer, 3 TV spots and an animated Photo Gallery (17 stills) rounds off the disc. Note that the teaser trailer available as an easter egg on the Election dvd is not included here.
The 20 page colour booklet is attractive but low on info. Johnnie To's Director's Statement is a heartfelt confession of his impression of Hong Kong post 1997 and how it plays into the themes of the film. A plot synopsis and a triad poem is all that's left outside the stills that take up the bulk of the pages.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson