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Home: Dubai Film Festival 2005: Day 2: Election

Starring: Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Louis Koo
Director: Johnny To

Who thought gangs could be diplomatic? And just like any democracy, voters could be bought, threatened or killed - in that order of increasing effectiveness. That is the central theme of Johnny To's skillfully constructed Triad tale 'Election' and it does a fine job of carefully laying on the board the pieces that will take power and those that will be crushed in the process.

The film opens with the elders of the Wo Shing Society, a Triad gang, shuffling to pledge their allegiances to either Lok (Simon Yam) or Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai), the two front runners in the race for being named the new chairman of the widely spread criminal circle. Not able to reach a clear consensus - mostly due to the deep rooted influence of bribery on the elders but also because both candidates have their desirable strengths - a deadlock occurs with loyal members assembling on either side. In a moment of clear enlightenment, the decision is made to pass on the patriarchal duties to Lok, a move which earns him the wrath of Big D and the triggers the possible outbreak of civil war amongst the two sides eventually formed. To prevent the situation from escalating any further, a sacred baton, the symbol of wielded power when in possession and mandatory requirement o formally hand over the echelons of power, is hidden, sparking a frantic hunt which lasts for the bulk of the running time.

'Election' is almost unflinching in exploring the very depths of the world it creates but it also allows itself to be distracted by one too many story arcs that despite progressing the situation in a gripping manner, also stray from the main characters long enough for the audience to wonder who they should be rooting for. This is especially evident when the baton passes hands between a handful of protectors in an extended yet exciting chase sequence. As Big D, Tony Leung is an unprincipled live wire exploding in frenzied bouts of violent outbursts and he lights the scenes with a manic energy curiously missing in some other segments that clearly require the same treatment.

The film is violent yes, but it is also remarkable because it manages to be brutal without the use of any ammunitions or gunfire, considered staple ingredients of Hong Kong cinema. Keeping with the themes and traditions of gangster films, there is a dizzying array of characters to keep up with, but the sum here is clearly greater than even the weakest parts. - by Faizan Rashid

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