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Election - Tartan Asia Extreme

Tartan Video // Unrated // November 6, 2007
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted November 20, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Election (Hak Se Wui) threw me for a loop, as I really didn't know what to make of it after my primary screening. Initially, director Johnnie To's triad film left me entertained and compelled with its solid concept, but only to meager degrees - and I felt like there was potentially more lying underneath. A subsequent trip into this wrestle of testosterone and power revealed more of the nuances and attention to detail I was looking for, but it still seemed oddly balanced between exaggerated action and potentially intricate thought. Still a solid entry, To's Election serves up a ample helping of engaging crime-based convolution with a few dashes of intelligence and humor to spice up the flow.

The Film:

Election takes us into the Wo Shing crime syndicate as they prepare for their biannual (once every two years) chairman selection. Bidding amidst the voting elders for support has already begun, as candidates Lok (Simon Yam) and Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai) try and push their monetary and forceful resources on the members. Whether it's through the suave, professional style Lok exercises or the brashness of Big D's forceful bribery and aggression, it's far from an unbiased appointment. An organized election in a crime syndicate means almost as much as the term "organized crime".

Once the election takes place, the transfer of an ancient Dragon Head Baton clinches the candidate's support after the votes. It's an age-old tradition brought into the modern era that preserves the Wo Shing's historical essence. Instead of symbolically changing hands in a peaceful manner, ownership of this baton turns into a major complication once the group's elders have made their decision. Both candidates now barrel along in a bloody, explosive dash to gain control of this symbolic figure and claim the throne of chairman in the Wo Shing organization.

To look at Election either as a completely serious crime drama or as a pure injection of adrenaline for its audience is to miss the appeal of the film. Johnnie To infuses both elements together with style and surface-level brains here, and he does so with enjoyable theatrics clearly in focus. He spices up the typical triad piece with a few dashes of substance, namely overblown criminal action and splashes of humor. At the same time, he also infuses a strong essence of brotherhood and ancient tradition within its modern backdrops. To's confetti blast of elements kept me dazzled and provoked all along, even though it was purely along its thin surface.

Everything director To tosses into the mix with Election hits the ground blazing, from the ramshackle civil war between the Wo Shing in the streets to the aggressive activities Big D issues out on his non-supporters. At times, however, the bickering between the two factions in the organization lean more towards schoolyard tirades than believable squabbles. At the same time, it's a wonder whether To intentionally creates this dynamic as a playful critique on their bickering. For example, when crates with bodies in them are seen rolling down a hill as a form of gang-style punishment, it's done with intent for both mild shock value and to rouse a few chuckles. That stylish line between humor and violence is a tough one to walk along, but Election meagerly succeeds in keeping this captivating balance without insulting the audience's intelligence.

Johnnie To's film does keep speed with this blend, though it also has difficulties sinking its aggressive claws in fully because of this attempted balance. Its uphill battle to be snappy also hinders its potency, maintaining a wall in front of emotional connection. Caricaturist portrayals of stereotypical mob characters litter the narrative, which doesn't help the feasibility gap. I had a hard time identifying with any of the characters in Election, though they do add flavor to an already colorful film. The incredibly stark difference between Lok and Big D doesn't seem natural, but we still accept their demeanors because it's that enjoyable to watch. When mixed with sharp camera work and entrancing musical accompaniment, it quickly turns into a highly enthralling ride.

Ultimately, Election exists as visceral entertainment with touches of digestibly slight social commentary. Though it's not a revolutionary incarnation, there's a lot to enjoy through the zany mob warfare. Even though the characterizations are a bit too lurid and the decision of a mob leader, whether a proper selection or not, is dictated by whomever holds a wooden baton, the outlandish violence strikes a lot of positive chords throughout. The fact that the hardest hit spot is a satirically dark funny bone, however, is what takes Election from a slightly above-average triad film to one with embraceable charisma.

The DVD:

Election comes from Tartan Video under the Asia Extreme moniker in a standard keepcase presentation with a cardboard slipcover replicating the front and back covers. Included is a nice chapter listing inset in typical Tartan fashion, as well as similar discart to the front cover.

The Video:

Presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic presentation, Tartan's transfer of Election is fairly sharp, pops with color, and holds a lot of depth in many darker scenes. However, it can also be overly sharp at times and feel quite flat in several scenes. Textured surfaces or densely detailed portions suffer a bit from aliasing and a bit of halo effects, as well. Furthermore, there are also several darker scenes that appeal a bit on the grayish-blue side. In all, the visual treatment works fairly well to present this loud picture, but Tartan's edition of Election isn't exactly a visual stunner.

The Audio:

Available in Tartan's regular line-up of audio options, namely in Cantonese Dolby and DTS 5.1 audio options, Election actually sounds quite good. Multidirectional effects are incorporated in several scenes, making sporadic use of the rear channels. It's a clean audio track, but not terribly forceful. There are some effects, like the thump of wood or screeching of car breaks, that can rattle the speakers here and there. One strong element of Election is its kitschy score. Every chord, chime, and slam of a drum through the audio transfer rings true and solid. The DTS and Dolby audio treatments share a whole lot more in common than they do in difference, as the DTS track only holds a bit more tightness and activity in the LFE channel and sprawling effects. In all, the DTS 5.1 is the optimal option. A 2.0 Stereo option is also available, as are passable English and Spanish subs.

The Extras:

Election grasps a lot of the extras from other region releases and compiles them on this disc. This isn't a bad thing at all, since these extras are pretty solid.

- Interview with Johnnie To -
This 30-minute interview with the director really delves into his passions regarding the film, from his political and sociological insight to his ideas on the demeanor of the film. He discusses the controversy behind the film's marketing, as well as his casting decisions. It's a lengthy, dense discussion undoubtedly worth your time if you're a fan of the film.

- Interviews with Actors -
Entertaining interviews with Simon Yam, Wong Tim Lam, and Tony Leung Ka Fai are included. Alot of the material that the actors discuss is working with Johnnie To and his predetermined eye for specific scenes and demeanors. All three also discuss their motivations for their characters, which can be fairly interesting.

- Making of Election Documentary -
This piece exists almost wholly to retell the story and give some very standard insights into the making of the film. Inside of its runtime of a little over 7 minutes, we learn a bit about the Hong Kong mafia as the inspiration behind the film along with some behind the scenes clips from the production.

- Trailers -
Along with Election's own theatrical Trailer, we've also got Trailers for the sequel, Triad Election, as well as Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance, Divergence, and Another Public Enemy.


Final Thoughts:

Election isn't the pinnacle of Hong Kong mobster cinema, but it does provide a brazen, flamboyantly vicious story with an amusingly tense demeanor. Tartan's disc carries a lot of the quality extras from other regions with a serviceable audio and video treatment, thus making the film and the disc both Recommended.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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