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With: Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Nick Cheung, Cheung Siu-Fai, Lam Ka Tung, Lam Suet, Wang Tian-lin, Tam Ping-Man, Mark Cheng, Yong You, Chan Siu-Pang, Albert Cheung, Andy On, Pauline Poon
Written by: Yau Nai-Hoi, Yip Tin-Shing
Directed by: Johnny To
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Mandarin, Cantonese with English subtitles
Running Time: 92
Date: 04/04/2006

Triad Election (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hong Kong Godfathers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Johnny To's superb, graceful new Triad Election actually has quite a bit in common with Francis Coppola's Godfather trilogy, and so anyone even remotely familiar with that should be able to follow it pretty clearly. Here it is: Lok (Simon Yam) is the current Chairman of Wo Shing Triad Society in Hong Kong. Each Chairman is elected and serves for two years. Lok's time is running out and he wishes to serve another term. Meanwhile, Jimmy (Louis Koo), has become rich from his Triad business connections, mainly selling bootleg videos. He wishes to move into legitimate business, and has a high-priced highway deal all set up. But he's arrested, and his ability to do business in Mainland China is taken away. Only the Triad Chairman has enough power to trade favors with the cops and reinstate that privilege. So Jimmy has no choice but to run for Chairman.

This starts a vicious gang war between Lok and Jimmy, but neither can make an overt attack. If either candidate is accused of any wrongdoing, the council of elder Uncles won't cast their votes. Lok lures an anonymous hired killer into the picture with promises of his own lofty position, and goes after some of Jimmy's legitimate financiers. Meanwhile, Jimmy attempts to drum up support using cages, chains, hungry dogs, a sledgehammer and a meat grinder (the rest is best left to the imagination). Lok takes care of one of the uncles, the egg-shaped Uncle Teng (played by the wonderful Wang Tian-lin), by throwing him down a flight of stairs, dragging him to the next landing, and doing it again.

To can be a crackerjack action director; just check out that astounding tracking shot at the front end of Breaking News, but here he's deliberately restrained, even pulling back on that highly emotional "operatic" quality that many Hong Kong films have. Like The Godfather films, the violence comes quickly and lasts briefly, leaving a shocked, slightly foul aftertaste. The movie's real strength comes in the performances, the interplay, and the unknown levels of trust. Triad Election is full of quiet, almost severe moments, men in rooms talking, trying to look as if everything is in control.

To and his usual co-writers Yau Nai-Hoi and Yip Tin-Shing concentrate more on the emotional process leading up to the election. (The election itself is something of an anti-climax.) Both men have enough character flaws that we're drawn to them despite their actions. For example, Lok has a young son toying with entering a school gang to protect himself from bullies. In one remarkable scene, Lok and his gang show up at a meeting between the young, thuggish "gangsters" (with died, spiky hair, piercings and tattoos), his son and another young recruit. The recruits are just about to hand over their dues when Lok and his gang interrupt. One of the thugs sneers and says, "I'm a gangster." One of the older men slaps him and gets stabbed in the leg. Lok's son runs, panicking, and Lok chases after him, eventually growing too tired and falling to his knees in the street. It's the movie's most affecting scene, taking the whole gangster situation and showing its allure, danger and ugly reality.

Note: Tartan Films is giving Triad Election an American theatrical release, even though its forerunner, Election, did not get the same treatment. No matter. I saw Triad Election before Election, and it was easy enough for me to sort out what was what.

Tartan's 2007 DVD release comes with a paltry, 7-minute making-of featurette with no identifying names for the talking heads, plus two interviews: one with Lam Suet (17 minutes) and one with Lam Ka Tung (14 minutes). There's also a trailer for this and several other Tartan releases. Subtitles are available in English or Spanish.

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