Saturday, June 10, 2006

ELECTION/HAK SE WUI - when meaningless violence isn't enough

I never thought I'd say this, but ELECTION is a movie where meaningless violence wasn't enough to sustain my interest. Don't get me wrong. The violence quotient in this Hong Kong Johnnie-To Triad movie is liberal and scarily innovative. There's one scene involving the torture of gang bosses that brings new meaning to the punishment of Sisyphus. The problem is that the plot is pretty thin. Essentially, the movie charts a stand-off between two traid bosses - the ever-so-slightly out-of-control Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and the patient loyal Lok. Apparently, every two years, this particular gang of triads elects their new leader. (A surprisingly civilised injection of democracy!) The wise old "uncles" elect Lok, despite liberal kick-backs from Big D. On hearing the news, Big D throws his toys out of the pram and more importantly, tries to steal the Baton that signifies leadership within the gang. This chasing around fills up most of the film.

Now, the Baton is more than just a MacGuffin - a plot device that gets the action moving but whose content is meaningless. For if Lok does get the Baton, foiling Big D's attempt, he will have cemented his leadership and avoided a gang war that neither the triads nor the police want. And just in case we were in any doubt about the importance of the Baton, we get treated to a nice fifteen minute scene near the end of the movie where the triads pledge allegiance to the eventual winner of the election in an elaborate and historic ceremony. Still, as far as it goes, this is a movie about thugs trying to avoid a turf war, which is hardly anything new. I only wish To had developed the theme of police complicity further. My other minor quibble is that most of the film is photographed in a manner which has the faces of the actors in darkness, silhouetted against the sky/city/whatever. I assume that this is a directorial choice rather than just bad lighting or under-developed film. At any rate, I found it intensely frustrating.

All in all, unless you are an impassioned Hong Kong film fanatic, this is probably one to avoid. It is about a gazillion miles more superficial and dull than something like INFERNAL AFFAIRS.

ELECTION/HAK SE WUI showed at Cannes 2005 and is currently on release in the UK. It hits France in January 2007.

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