This follow up to Johnny To's 2005 gangster drama treads a lot of the same ground that the first film did but manages to top that earlier effort in both the drama and the brutality associated with Triad life. It's a bleak movie, but one well worth investigating for fans of To's work or by those who just enjoy a good crime story and who don't happen to mind healthy doses of politics thrown in for good measure.
Two years after the events in the first movie, Lok (Simon Yam of Dr. Lamb infamy), the current boss of the Wo Shing gang, is getting ready to step down as leader and it's time for an election to appoint his successor – or so tradition dictates. A few up and coming Triad heavies are interested in following Lok's reign, primarily Jimmy (Louis Koo) who is the popular choice among the gangsters despite the fact that he personally doesn't really want to be in charge and in fact harbors plans to go legit. On the other end of the spectrum, Kun (Ka Tung Lam) has made it perfectly clear that he wants Lok's seat and he might just be ambitious enough to get it though what he doesn't realize is that Lok has implied to Jet (Nick Cheung), his personal hired gun, that he'll be taking his place.
If that weren't complicated enough, Lok doesn't really want to give up his position as chairman and if at all possible he intends to stay on despite the fact that Triad law states he cannot be chairman for more than two years. Kun, being the one who wants Lok's position the most, objects for obvious reasons and the two come to develop some serious issues over this while Jimmy makes a poor decision and messes things up in a few different ways.
While in the first movie To portrayed the gangsters as right bastards, at least in that story they were men of power able to make a difference even if it wasn't necessarily in a positive light. Here they fight among themselves in what at first seems to be a completely futile and utterly selfish power struggle, not able to ally themselves with one another for fear of being stabbed in the back. The ranks of the organization have grown ripe with liars and no one trusts anyone else anymore – a point that To makes painfully clear in his obvious condemnation of the Triad lifestyle. These are not heroic men, nor do they really have any genuine honor, instead they are nothing more than snakes not to be glamorized but to be looked down upon and they're all shown as very pathetic by the time the movie ends.
Performances this time around are strong across the board with Simon Yam in particular doing an excellent job in his part. Those familiar with Yam from his various cop films and Category III films will enjoy seeing him in a completely realistic part and doing very well with the material. If in the first film he seemed a little larger than life here he's taken down a few pegs and forced to scramble to hold onto the only thing that he really cares about, and that's his position of power. Yam is contrasted nicely against Ka Tung Lam as Kun, whose ambition and intent is obvious which makes him more of the aggressor this time around. It's interesting to see how the central characters change as the film progresses, as fear becomes a driving factor and they in turn become more desperate and self serving because of it.
The film's main flaw is that in a few too many ways it mirrors the story of the film movie. It definitely takes a different approach to it but the basic idea behind the story is the same even if it takes things to a different level. With that in mind, and knowing going into the film that To is not at all keen on glorifying the Triads and as such that the film will be a condemnation of sorts, it isn't overly difficult to figure out where it's heading early on. In the end though, the film is still very good. It's well shot with some moments of truly shocking violence that punctuate the drama nicely and all involved in the cast do a fine job with the material. Even with a few issues in terms of repeating itself, the film is definitely worth a look.
The anamorphic 1.85.1 transfer looks very nice on this DVD release with a few caveats. Blacks are solid, colors are very well defined though flesh tones are a little sickly looking. Compression artifacts are a non-issue though some edge enhancement is present and the picture is not properly flagged for progressive scan playback which may result in some sawtooth artifacts depending on your setup. There's plenty of both foreground and background detail present in the image from start to finish and color reproduction strong. There's a tiny hint of aliasing present in a few scenes, print damage is pretty much non-existent and while there is some fine film grain in one or two spots, that's okay as it isn't ever once overpowering or distracting in the least.
Surround sound options are available in a Cantonese language Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a DTS 5.1 mix as well as a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix. The DTS mix is great – very active and properly balanced demonstrating distinct channel separation, crystal clear dialogue, and great use of the rear channels for sound effects and background music. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has slightly less LFE in it, but is also quite solid and the score sounds fantastic regardless of which option you choose. This is a very, very layered mix used in this film, and this DVD does a very good job of exposing everything that's hiding in the background with crystal clear audio. Optional subtitles are available in Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, and in English. Clarity is great both tracks, and the DTS mix sounds exceptionally good, particularly when the soundtrack kicks in or when musical scenes take place. Music swells up around you and behind you as the movie plays out and everything is handled very well in terms of what is placed where and in short, both surround sound mixes are top notch.
The first disc contains only the feature (which makes sense considering that it has two surround sound options tucked away with it) but on the second disc there are a few decent supplements to be found, and thankfully each and everyone of them is fully subtitled in English as well as in Chinese (except for the TV spots).
First up is an interview with Johnny To which clocks in at twelve minutes in length wherein the director talks about his intentions with this second Election film and what he hoped to get across with it. To comes across as a nice enough guy and he's obviously pretty sharp so it's interesting to hear him speak about a lot of the themes and ideas that he was playing with here and how many of them relate to how the people of Hong Kong feel about being back under Chinese rule.
From there, the two lead actors – Lam Suet and Lam Kar Tung – are interviewed for seventeen and fourteen minutes respectively. Topics covered here include character motivation, what it was like working with a big name director like Johnny To, and what kind of atmosphere they found themselves in while on set during this production. Also covered here are the ways in which their respective characters have changed from the first film to this second film, which is a nice refresher if your memory of the first film has faded a little bit since seeing it and it proves to be rather insightful. Mention is made here of some scenes that were cut from the finished version of the film – sadly those scenes are not included in this set.
A basic seven-minute making of documentary is up next, where we find more interviews with Johnny To in addition to talking head interviews with Louis Koo who talks about his character and working with To, as well as with writer Yau Nai Hoi who covers the evolution of the script and where he wanted to take the characters from the first movie. There's some interesting behind the scenes clips to look for in here but it's a fairly generic piece.
Three un-subtitled television advertisements for the movie round out the supplements accompanied by a slideshow style still gallery.
In addition to what is included on the two discs in the set, this release also comes with a nice, full color booklet containing a statement of intent from Johnny To, a plot synopsis, and a few color stills from the film. The text is in Chinese and in English as well. The YesAsia exclusive edition includes some exclusive postcards as well. The two discs are housed in a digipak that fits nicely inside a sturdy, slick looking keepcase.
A solid crime drama gets an equally solid special edition release. Election 2 won't appeal to those expecting the heroic bloodshed of bullet ballet of some of To's earlier films but to anyone who enjoys a strong, character driven drama with a few Triad-specific twists this two disc set comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.