Election (2006) dir. Johnnie To
Starring: Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka Fei
Johnnie To’s “Election” was an official selection at Cannes in 2005 and was at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006 (along with it’s sequel “Election 2”). It also won some major hardware at the Hong Kong film Awards. Some major accomplishments for a very average Hong Kong gangster film. I'll probably take some heat for this, but nothing elevates the film beyond the plethora of Hong Kong triad films that get over-praised year after year.
It’s part of Triad tradition to elect the new Chairman of a gang every two years. This year’s campaigning is particularly aggressive between the two frontrunners Lok (Simon Yam) and Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fei). When Lok is elected Big D doesn’t take it graciously and proceeds to kidnap two of the elder voters to get them to change their decision. When the coveted Baton which symbolizes the leadership of the Chairman disappears in the melee the henchman of both Lok and Big D chase it down leaving nothing standing in their way.
Amid the violent confrontations, much political maneuvering takes place in a local jail house where both Lok, Big D and many of the voters have been locked up. After some unlikely alliances a winner emerges at the expense of much brutal bloodshed.
One of my key DFD contributors has often said that critics are too kind and easy on Asian films. Did “The Host” really deserve a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes? It's good, but not that good. Therefore I’m not going to go easy on this one. Like many Hong Kong action films I’ve seen, the acting is bi-polar. Characters are pushed to the extreme all believability is completely thrown out the window. Lok is a soft-spoken gangster who rarely utters a word or expresses an emotion. Nothing phases him and he always seems in control. Of course, as the screenwriting rule says, the antagonist is the anti-thesis of the hero (assuming that’s Lok, who actually won the election). Johnnie To makes him out to be a screaming, raging maniac – like a Ritalin child who’s just had his candy taken away. Both characters have only one note to play each – quiet or loud.
If the characters are not there, then perhaps I could have relied on some kick ass action (as in a Tsui Hark film), but there’s none. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single gunshot in the entire film. The baddies chose to dispose of their enemies by lengthy and brutal beat downs with clubs, garbage cans and good old fashioned kicks and punches. Ok, without the action, maybe I could have been compensated with a tight suspenseful plot (as in “Infernal Affairs”). Again, there no scenes that stand out or even have me wonder ‘what’s going to happen next.’
So what do we have? A typical derivative Triad film with bad acting, no interesting characters, no action, and no suspense. The film even has a bland colourless look to it. I even tried to watch Johnny To’s “Exiled” but couldn’t make it through 30 mins before being bored again with drama worthy of an exploitation video game. "Election" has an 84% positive rating on the IMDB and apparent Quentin Tarantino called it the “best film of the year”. Am I alone on this one? Did I miss something?
Buy it here: Election 'Hak Se Wui' (Special Collector's Edition) 2 DVD Set