Sunday, February 3, 2008

ELECTION 2 Movie Review

(aka TRIAD ELECTION) (2006)

It has been two years since the events of ELECTION, in which Lok (Simon Yam) battled for and won the seat of chairman in the Wo Shing Triad Society. Now it is time for a new election, and while Lok's godsons all vie for the position, it is Jimmy Lee (Louis Koo) who seems to be a shoe-in for the position. The only problem is, Jimmy doesn't want the title and is currently working on becoming a legitimate businessman in China. Even more so, the power of the chairman title has gotten to Lok's head, and he plans to defy tradition and make a power play to be re-elected.

When Jimmy makes a trip to China to try to finalize his new business venture, he is arrested by the police and forced into a very precarious situation - if he wants to continue doing business in China, he must win the election to be chairman so that they will have an inside connection. With dreams of still going legit, Jimmy agrees to make his bid as the next chairman. Jimmy soon realizes though that becoming chairman takes a lot more than just throwing money in the faces of those that would vote for him, and that Lok has no intention of simply giving up the title. It boils down to a battle of wits and perseverance, and only the one that is willing to shed the most blood will survive long enough to make it to election night.

Johnnie To returns to continue the saga of the Wo Shing Society and excels in every aspect from his original film with Yip Tin-Shing and Yau Nai-Hoi once again returning to screenwriting duty with a much more grand and attention grabbing storyline. All of the actors of the first film, those that survived to the end credits anyway, also return to step back into their character's shoes with strength and confidence.

Louis Koo, who held a supporting role in the original, now takes center stage as Jimmy Lee, in a role that seems somewhat inspired by Michael Corleoni in THE GODFATHER, as he fights to become free of the criminal element that created him so that he can lead a legit life with his wife and soon-to-be children. But the harder he struggles, the more the society clamps their fist around him. Koo's performance is incredible, and adds an electric current to the conflicted turmoil found in the script.

Returning with his lust for power as Lok is Simon Yam. Yam works as a polar opposite to Koo with a determined cool and a bottled rage that was seen in such evidence in the original. His character becomes all the fearful with his zen-like calm, as we know that at any moment, he could simply snap if he felt he was in danger.

Johnnie To, who has had a string of triad-based crime drama over the past few years, reaches the apex with ELECTION 2. He finds a perfect balance of his tried-and-true stoic long shots and visceral exposure of true violence to give his fans, as well as inquisitive newcomers, a one-two combination that can not be beat. Given the more dynamic script this time around, To is able to bring a more varied emotional energy to the screen, and with both Jimmy Lee's tumble into the chairman position, and Lok's young son taking his first steps into the criminal lifestyle, To hones in on the darkness that permeates the story.

A special mention must be made to the soundtrack that underscores almost the entire film. With heavy rumbling percussion and moody deliberate guitar string plucking, the music simultaneously recalls the notions of a pre-battle build-up to a fight where there is no winner and inevitable post-battle blood-stained recollection. It captures the tone of the desperate and tragic story, and is a key element that makes the movie work as well as it does.

While ELECTION 2 certainly references the first ELECTION and makes for a much more fulfilling experience in its character development and mirror scenes, it is not necessary to see the original. U.S. distributor Tartan Asia Extreme makes a bold decision to rename it TRIAD ELECTION (though the film credits retain the original title) as a way to disconnect it as a sequel so that it may stand on its own. Though it echoes the blatant re-titling seen by Miramax/Dimension in the 1990s and countless distributors before them, in their defense they do seem to have the film's best intentions at heart.


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