Traditionally, the Ho Sing Triad, a long-established criminal group, elects a chairman, whose power is symbolised by the possession of a baton carved into the shape of a dragon. Lok (Yam) is chosen for the role by the senior gang members, but his rival Big D (Leung) tries to seize power by getting hold of the baton.
This unusual Triad movie holds off on all the expected gunplay, saving up its acts of messy violence for later. It’s about the discrepancy between the myth of criminal gangs as honourable secret societies united by oaths of loyalty and the reality of hypocritical thugs who’ll backstab lifelong comrades to grab the top seat at the table of ‘uncles’ who run the show.
Johnny To, whose best-known films are the comic book adventure The Heroic Trio and the hitman drama Fulltime Killer, isn’t as flamboyant as some Asian directors when it comes to set-pieces, but is more interested in the nuts and bolts of crime. Early on, Election — not to be confused with the Alexander Payne film — subtly encourages us to root for dignified family man Lok (Simon Yam), who has been democratically chosen to run the gang, against sadistic, gambling-crazed loose cannon Big D (Tony Leung).
The kicker, of course, is that we’re eventually reminded that both antagonists are involved in a nasty business, and the more obviously gangsterish Big D is at least honest about it. There’s all this talk of “democracy”, but the struggle for succession soon turns into an undignified, cruel spat between confused minions who keep snatching the symbolic baton from each other, leading to some unforgettably callous action come the climax.
A solid Hong Kong crime offering, and a cert for a Mafia-set Hollywood remake