Tony Leung Ka-fai
There are plenty of slick movies coming out of Asia at the moment. China, Thailand, Korea, Japan; all are having their say in an increasingly confident and vibrant cinema scene. From Hero to Ong Bak, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance to Zatoichi, few genres are left untouched by this Eastern influence, few conventions unbroken.
Despite this richness it’s the Hong Kong market that still remains dominant, and there’s nothing Hong Kong comes up with better than crime thrillers. Confident, stylish affairs, full of suits, cars, shooting and tricky plots; it’s a unique and worthwhile genre. Recently, Infernal Affairs took up a lot of attention (perhaps undeservedly); this year, maybe, Election will have a similar impact.
The Wo Shing family is Hong Kong’s oldest triad gang. Though ruthless in their business dealings their family life is benign, peacefully overseen by the group of twelve triad uncles. Every two years, the uncles cast their votes for a new leader, and the power and direction of the family business is passed into his hands, represented by a ceremonial baton. The democratic nature of the event ensures stability within the family; a stability desired by both triad members and policeman alike.
This year, however, these amicable relations are shattered by Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai), an ambitious triad who refuses to accept his electoral defeat. When the ceremonial baton goes missing, the stability of the family begins to come under strain. Can Lok (Simon Lam), who was declared the election victor, recover the baton and consolidate his power in time to prevent all out war?
For a good portion Election is well worth watching. Johnnie To’s direction is assured, and he seems to have a good sense for tension especially. The baton is passed on relay style, each triad family member carrying it further towards its ultimate destination, all building towards a gritty, exciting conclusion.
But that’s where it starts to go wrong. Bizarrely, the film segues on for another 30 minutes or so with story that was simply unnecessary. The conclusion, when it does come, is far tamer then it might have been, and feels very poorly paced.
It also suffers from an absurdly large amount of characters. Twelve uncles, three police officers, the two contesting the election (and their families), four or five people chasing the baton…well, you do the math. I certainly couldn’t.
In the end it’s the “Volume 1″ tag that rather gives the game away – To simply had more than one movie on his mind. Though he doesn’t explicitly cue up a sequel, he leaves enough characters behind to make at least a couple. As Nightwatch recently proved, making movies like this is always a troublesome propostion; first parts generally revolve around getting the story in position, and often pay little heed to plot or pacing.
It’s not short of ideas though, and as mentioned there’s plenty of style. In the end, it’s still worth the watch; but there are now a lot of other Asian movies about which might tempt you more.