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With a good dozen great films over the past couple of years, Hong Kong cinema seems to be back after several years where it languished around wih mediocre films. Films such as Divergence (2005), One Night In Mongkok (2004), Kung Fu Hustle (2004), SPL: Saat Po Long (2005) or Dumplings (2004) have all worked to put Hong Kong back on the map. Election (2005) is yet another example of this trend.
One of the oldest Triads (chinese crime society) in Hong Kong has had a long traditon of "democratically" electing its leaders. Every two years, the top Brass of this 15,000+ people organization get together and vote. Of course, behind the scenes, it's like any normal "democratic" elections with backstabbings, bribes, and vitriolic attacks on your opponent. This year, Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and Lok (Simon Yam) are facing off. Big D is a brash bitter man who is as powerful in the triad as he is impatient and violent. Lok is a master of cool, deftly dealing with his ennemies and carefuly manipulating the politics of the election. When Lok ends up winning, Bid D is mad and threatens to break apart the triad.
This film treats the Triad like a secret society and lets you in on its inner workings, infighting and deep politics. What most other film do with violence and action, this film does with an impecable look at a crooked election in a crooked world. It's a gangster movie like i have never seen before because of that political focus, and en-passant of course, a sharp satire of democracy and the process of elections. Not that this film lacks in action or violence: there are a few really well done action pieces, and the end is chilling with its quiet and contained violence as Lok finally decides to get rid of Big D whom he sees more and more as an uncontrollable liability. The detail of the writing, and this insider look at an organization we normal people only know from the outside, is all in all very effective, and also informative. Technically, the film is superb, with very moody, very well lit cinematography. The cast is pitch perfect, and Simon Yam, who seems to be experiencing a rebirth of his own, is wonderful. The music is also quite memorable, although it is quite sparce and repetivite which lessens its impact as the movie marches on.
This was a very surprising film with a story unlike anything you have seen before. It's not your traditional insider mob story, but an insider look at the political mechanics in a gangster society which has adopted paradoxically demotratic means to elect its leaders. This emphasis on political power and influence, rather than sheer brutality or family-based succession rites, is what makes the main characters so interesting. Seeing unfold this game of ever expanding influence and might in a crooked world is very novel.
- Laurent Hasson