Triad Election is Election 2, director Johnny To's 2006 sequel to the massively popular, 2005, crime film Election. Apparently, though they were the distributors for the first film on US DVD, the folks over at Tartan think consumers are less apt to buy a sequel film, thus the odd retitling. Here is my review of the first film, link, which amusingly didn't want to provide any plot spoilers which this linear sequel obviously gives away.
The second film picks up two years after the first, naturally, just in time for another election within the Wo Sing Triad group. Current chairman Lok (Simon Yam) has designs on a second consecutive term, a move that would be unprecedented and heavily fought against, but considering how he got the position (see first film) he is unafraid of the battle to make it happen. Crass gang member Kun (Lam Ka Tung) openly barks that he wants the position, but the man for the job most everyone else agrees on, including the all too influential elders, is Jimmy Lee (Louis Koo). Jimmy has established great wealth with his bootlegging porn business and has made substantial inroads with powerful businessmen.
Problem is, Jimmy not only doesn't want the job, he doesn't want to be a Triad, and he has his sights set on taking all of his wealth and connections and going legit. Symbolically, he has plans to help build a new interstate road connecting HK to the mainland and even has a spot for his dream house on a grand hill overlooking the roads construction.
After Jimmy is busted making a payoff, the mainland cops tell him he can no longer do any business (straight or otherwise) inside of China. Jimmy, despite all of his inroads as a gangster and businessmen, simply doesn't possess the clout and the only way to right that is by becoming the Wo Sing chairman. He sets out his campaign with all the essential money and favoritism in his corner. The only thing he doesn't have is the approval and Lok and Kun, both of whom are set to eliminate him and anyone connected with him in order to take the position. Not willing to just roll over, Jimmy is set to carve out a bloody path if that is what it will take to save his dream.
Election 2 is a fine crime film. Once again Johnnie To shows he is a top notch commercial film maker straining for a little more realism while pandering to all the selling points that make a populist feature. It delivers a fine ensemble cast, a mostly brisk pace (the opening is a tad slow), and all the gangster grit viewers will come to expect, most notably a dog kennel torture sequence and a daytime rescue with some blade-wielding brutality.
A good film but one unfortunately suffering a case of sequelitis. It more or less follows the same pattern as the first just with slightly different motivations because it follows a different character. The politics of the Wo Sing are more or less exactly the same. The typical gangland struggles where they try to maintain these archaic "honorable" traditions, which prove futile because they are, after all, an organization made up of criminals. It is the classic paradox of a crime organization, essentially established and run via breaking societies laws, so it is impossible to believe its self-created and imposed laws will be any more concrete and likely to remain unbroken.
For me, since it didn't state anything new or special about the Triads and didn't amp up the action/thrills any more or any less compared to the first film, the brunt of the enjoyment lied with Jimmy as a character. I simply didn't find Jimmy nearly as compelling as Lok. In the first film, Lok is engaging because he is a man of subtlety, a calm, unfettered surface, boiling with deadly, murderous ambition underneath, a side that slowly, malevolently comes more and more to the surface. Jimmy on the other hand, is less developed. The finale is supposed to suggest a personally devastating twist that Jimmy didn't see coming- basically that all evil shenanigans he pulled have trapped him in exactly the life and legacy he desperately desired to avoid (hey, there will probably be a part 3, so we'll see). His want of legitimacy is short and simply stated early on. Most of the film is him on a cold rampage. The scripting underplays any conflict he might have over his actions. I feel they should have spent a good ten to twenty more minutes developing him as a criminal trying to wear the face of a business and family man, making his turn of toppling his rivals to become a criminal leader in order to save that life all the more dramatic.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. I was actually pretty let down by the image here. The print is a bit on the weaker side, at least in terms of what I would expect form a Johnny To film, with some paled colors and slightly grayed contrast. It is by no means horrible but considerably lacking in polish and pizzaz. Compression issues are present to a very minor degree, resulting in some noise.
Sound: Cantonese 2.0, 5.1, and DTS with optional English or Spanish subtitles. Sound quality was good with the only misses being some dialogue recording in rougher ambient settings. Mix is heady with good use fo the strong scoring and straightforward fx. Subs were okay with a few minor mistakes.
Extras: Original Trailer (+). -- Making Of Featurette (6:35). -- Interviews with actors Lam Suet (17:17) and Lam Ka Tung (14:15).
The extras were imported from the HK disc minus that editions best feature an interview with Johnny To. Instead we are left with just the fluffy, piecemeal "making of" and interviews with two second stringers. While both the actors deliver some good anecdotes (especially the amusing, classic HK character actor Lam Suet), it is a tad strange to have the films main actors a complete no show in discussing their far more substantial characters.
Conclusion: I was not as won over by the second film, which doesn't mean it isn't highly entertaining, but I did get the impression of Election 2 being a retread with a less interesting lead. Discwise, it certainly an okay disc, though sticklers for slightly better edition will want to go with the import version Ian Jane reviewed here. Therefore, I think if you want to get your HK crime on, the Tartan DVD of Election 2 is the stuff of a solid rental.