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Michelle Thomas

Published June 9th, 2006 | by Michelle Thomas

Election Review

Classification: 18 Director: Johnnie To Rating: 3/5

Election is a look at life inside the Triads, Hong Kong’s ancient gang societies. A bit like political parties, a bi-annual election is held by senior members of the Wo Shing Society to choose the new chairman. Lok (Lam), who has the respect of the Uncles, is the favourite to win, but his chief rival, Big D (Leung) will stop at nothing to gain the ultimate prize. When the Dragon’s Head Baton, the Wo Shing’s ancient symbol of leadership, disappears, a ruthless struggle for power erupts that threatens to destroy the Wo Shing entirely.

The most interesting thing about Election, which is otherwise a rather dull and histrionic depiction of Hong Kong’s seedy underbelly, is the history of the Triads. Having assumed, rather lazily, that they were the simple equivalent of the Mafia, it was interesting to discover that in fact their roots go back a lot further. They began as freedom fighters, bound by blood oath to overthrow the foreign Manchu Ch’ing Dynasty and restore the throne to China. Over time, the Triads’ aims and ideals changed, and the organisation, having migrated to Hong Kong and overseas, fragmented into hundreds of separate societies, pre-occupied with personal and petty schemes. The Triads are no longer a patriotic and mystical brotherhood; nevertheless it was estimated that in 1960 one in six people in Hong Kong still had connections to a Triad group, and they are still very much part of the fabric of Hong Kong culture and society.

However, interesting as all this is, you won’t glean much of it from the film, which is sadly much less interesting than the context in which its set. It seems odd to focus on the mechanics of how a new chairman gets elected, and whitter on about democracy as if standing for some sort of local bi-election, when really both candidates are, at the end of the day, involved in exactly the same unpleasant business. And the problem I have with these gangsters is that they’re so naff, all gold chains and ponytails. And Big D is the naffest of all; he comes across as a moron, yet is being seriously touted as a rival for Lok; this is largely due to Leung’s one-note, bellowing performance.

The Triads come across less as a deadly secret society than as a bunch of badly dressed chumps, and set up and double cross follows set up and double cross until by the time we get to the rather splendid, cold-bloodedly drawn out violence in the third act its all a bit too little too late.

aka Hak se wui


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