Election (aka Hak se wui) DVD Review

Written by Steve Pattee

DVD released by Tartan Video

Who's dumb enough to eat a spoon? – Big D.

Directed by Johnnie To
Written by Yau Nai Hoi and Yip Tin Shing
2006, Region 1, 97 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on November 6th, 2007

Simon Yam as Lam Lok
Tony Leung Ka Fai as Big D
Louis Koo as Jimmy Lee
Nick Cheung as Jet
Cheung Siu Fai as Mr. So
Lam Suet as Big Head
Lam Ka Tung as Kun
Wong Tim Lam as "Uncle" Ting Wai
Tam Ping Man as Uncle Cocky


I make no bones about it: I love Tartan Video. While they have released some stinkers (The Hillside Strangler comes immediately to mind), overall they have a pretty decent track record, especially with their "Asia Extreme" catalogue. Sure, it's speckled with more long-haired female ghost stories than not, but at least they release the pick of the litter.

Yet their Asia Extreme catalogue isn't restricted to horror. There's some fantastic choices in the mix — including some great films like Old Boy, Lady Vengeance, Triad Election and, now, Election.

Election is the first film of two in Johnny To's world of the Triad gang's electorial process. Like its sequel Triad Election, Election is a movie that wonderfully takes its time telling its story.

Also, like Triad, Election has two minor bosses vying to be the chairman of the Wo Shing, the oldest of Hong Kong's Triad Society. But unlike Triad, the chairman is voted in well before the end of the movie. Hell, a decision is made within the first 20 minutes. But whoever holds the Dragon's Head Baton — the Wo Shing's symbol of leadership — holds the power, and after Lok (Simon Yam) is chosen as the chairman over Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai), the Dragon's Head Baton goes missing. All hell breaks loose, and the two rival factions (Lok's men and D's men) are on a hunt to bring back the coveted baton by any means necessary. All the while, the senior members of the Wo Shing have to prevent an internal war.

Sounds like fun, right? It is.

Many of the same actors in Election reprised their roles in Triad, and having watched the latter first, it was interesting to see how the dynamics were completely different in Election. It was also frustrating because of those dynamics.

Louis Koo plays Jimmy Lee, the "hero" in Triad. He has a much smaller role in Election, but no less important. And two of the relationships he starts in Election — which carry over to Triad — are dramatically different from one movie to the next. The first, Jimmy's relationship with Lok, is the most interesting. In Triad, Lok is a man of little honor, throwing tradition out the window in order to maintain his spot as chairman of the Wo Shings. After watching Election, and seeing Jimmy's role in Lok's rise to power, it shows how truly dishonorable Lok is. It's no secret that the man is despicable, but, seeing what he went through to get the top dog spot in Election, you see he really is a cockroach.

Jimmy's other interesting bond is the one he has with Jet. In Triad, Jet (portrayed by Nick Cheung, who absolutely owns this role) is Lok's assassin for hire, and there seems to be no relationship between he and Jimmy. As Election shows, Jimmy and Jet do have a history, albeit a very volatile one, and, without spoiling anything, while the final scene between Jet and Jimmy in Triad works, it makes a lot more sense and the implications go deeper because of their relationship in Election.

Jimmy himself is a different person in Election. In Triad, it was his calm demeanor with bouts of rage that I was most impressed with because they seemed to come out of nowhere. However, in Election, you can see where his rage comes from. Jimmy did a lot of calming down during Lok's two year rule between the two movies. He certainly isn't a loose cannon, but both his performance and character are more mature in the sequel.

The story in Election between Jimmy and Lok and Jimmy and Jet changes the entire perception of those characters in its sequel. I even looked at Jimmy differently because of the subtle differences of his character between the two movies. Because of this, Triad becomes an almost entirely different movie. I wouldn't go as far to say it is imperative to watch Election before Triad, but I will say if given the choice, watch them in order. Shame on you, Tartan, for even making this an issue by releasing Triad first.

One thing that's nice about Election, as mentioned earlier, is the way it tells its story. There is relatively little violence for a gangster movie. But when it happens, the brutality and intensity is shocking. For one, it's not expected. I knew director Johnnie To had it in him after watching Triad, but it's still surprising when the viciousness sneaks up on you. Also, when the beatings start, it becomes a frenzy. Like piranhas to a meal, once that first one bites, the feeding quickly becomes a blur of blood and bone. One scene is so forceful in its violence, I found myself cringing with each punch thrown (but in this case, the punch wasn't coming from a fist — that would have been too nice — it was a rock repeatedly coming down on a man's head).

The beauty of the Election series, what it does to perfection, is it doesn't let you forget that, no matter how likeable, none of these guys are good men. So you shouldn't root for any of them.

Even so, I couldn't help myself.

Video and Audio:

Election's 1.85:1 anamorphic picture is impressive. At first glance, it appears dark, but then, due to some crafty lighting by director of photography Cheng Siu Keung, I realized it was intentional. Blacks are wonderfully deep, with no apparent bleeding — this is crucial because of all the darker scenes within the film — and colors are natural.

The Cantonese DTS track has a great mix. There is a good amount of use in the rears and sides, and the dialogue is crystal clear. The subtitles are a marked improvement on the last few Tartan titles, too (most notably The Victim, where they were borderline horrible). Since Election is story driven, thus dialogue driven, I was very pleased to see this.

Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 and English and Spanish subtitles are available.

Special Features:

  • The Making of Election
  • Interview with Johnnie To
  • Interviews with Tony Leung Ka Fai, Simon Yam, Wong Tin Lam
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

The "Making of Election" featurette runs about seven minutes and can be skipped. It's mostly interviews, and nothing is gained as it feels like a promo piece more than anything else.

All of the interview segments are worth watching, but the best (and longest) is the interview with Johnnie To. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, it covers quite a bit of what Election means to To, as well as some interesting behind the scenes tidbits.

In addition to the trailer for Election, there are trailers for Triad Election, Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance, Divergence and Another Public Enemy.


Overall: 4 Star Rating

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Steve Pattee
US Editor, Admin
He's the puppet master. You don't see him, but he pulls the strings that gets things done. He's the silent partner. He's black ops. If you notice his presence, it's the last thing you'll notice — because now you're dead. He's the shadow you thought you saw in that dark alleyway. You can have a conversation with him, and when you turn around to offer him a cup of coffee, he's already gone.
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