April 05, 2006


Election 2

Remember in BLUE VELVET when Kyle MacLachlan comes home from his date with Laura Dern only to encounter a battered, naked and brutalized Isabella Rossellini staggering out of the dark, barely able to speak? Whenever I think of Hong Kong these days I think of it as Isabella Rossellini in that scene.

Hong Kong has Disney screwing them on one end and without universal sufferage they've got China screwing them on the other. In recent weeks the new Chief Executive has given interviews dismissing critics of his new budget in language that one normally only heard in China back in the 70's and the UN has issued a blanket condemnation of Hong Kong's human rights situation which has been dismissed out of hand by the local government. Hong Kong seems to be screaming as loud as it can and everyone in power is just patting it on the head as they lead it to the slaughterhouse. Who would have thought that the person to make a movie about this would be Johnnie To? But that's exactly what ELECTION 2 is: a savage, funny, pitch black vivisection of Hong Kong politics.

Picking up two years after the last election in the Wo Sing triad, we find our triads sitting pretty on a mountain of money. Lok (Simon Yam) has, like Caesar, brought two years of pax triadica and even the Uncles (the retired brothers who sit around playing cards all day and whose approval is crucial) have been able to spring for new sweaters, shoes, fancier cigars and some nice hair products. Jimmy (Louis Koo) is building a logistics center in China that will be his giant step from well-heeled bootleg VCD mogul to legitimate businessman. Jet (Nick Cheung) is mostly in hiding, popping out every now and then to rub someone out for Lok, but otherwise cooling his heels in a nearly-bare apartment with ambition curdling in him like poison.

Now the new election is coming and, as we all know, elections bring out the worst in Lok (as the movie reminds us in a tribute to the original's infamous fishing scene). When we left him at the end of ELECTION, it was evident that Simon Yam's Lok wasn't the cool, peace-loving big brother he appeared to be, but a bloody maniac and now his sick desire to hang onto the chairmanship for two more years causes his insanity to bleed out of his pores like greasy sweat. China's Security Bureau has a hand in all this, as well, and they seem to be the sickos who are standing just offstage in the shadows, pulling the strings.

Johnnie To is currently shooting ELECTION 2Unlike ELECTION, which at least built sympathy for Lok's team until it pulled a switcheroo in the last third, ELECTION 2 has no sympathy for anyone. The characters are soaked in gore up to their elbows and none of them has an ounce of pity or humanity left in the burned out little piles of ash that were once their souls. This would make for tough going, but fortunately To has the violence set to simmer in the first half of the film - you know something awful is going to happen but it's not happening yet. As the players position their pieces the tension gets so thick you can barely breathe and when the violence does come - and believe me, it does - you don't know whether to be sick or relieved.

Nick Cheung doesn't get a cool moment in this film the way he did in ELECTION, but he still manages to demonstrate that there's a terrific actor beneath all that schtick just crying to get out. This movie's revelation is Mark Cheng. At one time a standard fixture of the Hong Kong movie scene in flicks like PEKING OPERA BLUES, RAPED BY AN ANGEL and CHINESE TORTURE CHAMBER 2 he's only been in one film since 2000 and it's like having your long-lost cousin come through the door when he gets out of the car in ELECTION 2 and makes his grand entrance. Playing a professional sadist running a Gitmo-style torture camp with a continually updated bill for services rendered scrolling through his head, he's a welcome relief and his unwillingness to betray those who're paying his bills comes across like the highest moral fibre in a film where everyone betrays everyone else at least twice.

As bleak as an alcoholic clown at a children's birthday party, ELECTION 2, like Louis Koo, holds itself in check until its ending when things, remarkably and unexpectedly, get even more horrible and depressing. The image of Hong Kongers eating their young at China's command is the kind of thing that'll stick in your brain for a long time to come. Nevertheless, I imagine it's going to do quite well in Hong Kong. As the film launched itself at the throat of the PRC and said the things that everyone in Hong Kong is thinking the packed audience at last night's screening burst into cheering, wild applause, foot stomping and laughter and just on that basis alone I imagine the box office here will be brisk.

I don't want to give the impression that the movie is solely concerned with political points, but watching it with the current events unfolding as they are, with June 4th on the horizon, and with a hometown audience who lapped up the political jokes like warm milk, it's hard not to focus on them. But, really, the politics are merely one of the lingering tastes you're left with. There's also violence, black humor, good acting, very very dark photography, and more violence. And did I mention violence? More compact, tightly structured, and darker than ELECTION, ELECTION 2 is the year's nastiest, bravest, most accomplished movie, doing in two hours what a million strident DV docs about human rights could never accomplish. He'd rather die than admit it, but I get the feeling that Johnnie To loves his hometown and that this is his way finding where the guy who attacked it lives, and wading into his living room with a baseball bat in hand to settle a few scores.

April 5, 2006 at 12:01 AM in Reviews | Permalink


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Tracked on Apr 27, 2006 2:12:56 PM


Thanks Grady - you've made my day by posting this so quickly. I can't wait to see this!

Posted by: Bunta Sugawara | Apr 5, 2006 3:28:05 AM

Any comments on the music?

Posted by: Robert | Apr 5, 2006 6:31:42 AM

Yes! Finally, someone is out making a film to recapture the image of HK. Yes, it's true that the HK film industry must work towards pan-Asian productions, but not at the loss of its local identity. Well done to To then, and to Grady for an awesome review.

Posted by: John | Apr 5, 2006 7:17:11 AM

Awesome! Can't wait! Thanks for the read.

Posted by: JoshuaPettigrew | Apr 5, 2006 12:11:26 PM

The music was quite good, working in some of the themes from the first ELECTION but giving it a little extra oomph. The music is by a Western guy and during the opening credits it's a bit too "Oriental" for my taste and I got worried, but it quickly calmed down and wound up being pretty terrific.

Interestingly, at a panel discussion (marred by the mostly-inoperable English translation headsets) To said that he had zero plans for ELECTION 1 or 2 to go to China and was actually surprised when ELECTION was submitted by someone else and approved. He also said, "If you're making a Chinese movie, make a Chinese movie. If you're making a Hong Kong movie, make a Hong Kong movie. But you can't do both."

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Apr 5, 2006 12:50:18 PM

It seems rather brave/foolhardy to have even a HK-only poke at Chinese security services, considering what happens to, for example, groups of harmless New Age-ish meditators.

Johnnie To = balls of steel.

Did anything crackle through your faulty headset about the mythical 3 hour version of Election 1?

Posted by: Bunta Sugawara | Apr 5, 2006 1:22:17 PM

Someone asked about it and Johnnie To erupted:

"Cut scenes? Cut scenes? Why are you guys so interested in this. I already made the movie." He went on to say that cut scenes from RUNNING OUT OF TIME have been "discarded" so I don't know if that means destroyed or not. Then he said that he wasn't going to include cut scenes on any DVD releases because "maybe I can use them for something else" then said that if he looked at one of the films in 3-5 years and thought it could benefit from being re-edited or having cut scenes included, he would do it. But he didn't think so.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Apr 5, 2006 7:12:45 PM

Great review man, can't wait to see this. I thought Cherrie Ying was in this though - what happened?

Posted by: Brian Q. | Apr 10, 2006 1:03:35 PM

According to Johnnie To, Cherrie Ying's scene has been deleted; originally, her character would have a love story with Jimmy.

Posted by: No name | Apr 11, 2006 4:33:53 AM

My wife and I were lucky enough to be at the seminar on April 5th and the best news that filtered through the crackling headsets was that there will be a cd soundtrack release of all the best music from the first decade of Milkyway and it is now available to preorder at the usual places

Posted by: Martin Naylor | Apr 28, 2006 10:36:03 AM

I've watched the movie this morning. It's very violent. I would say it is much closer to what we thought of gangsters. My gf did not like it and thought it was very similar to the first one. Election, murdered, and violence.

For me, this movie is checking the issue in another very different angle. Last one was telling us how one try to obtain his ambition; this time is talking about one who had not choice but be the head of the gang - Koo (Jimmy in the movie).

It is really violent but reasonable to put it into the scene. The movie is full of fighting and you have not much time to think about the story. But it's close to the topic, in chinese "when you are in the ocean, you have no chance for habeas corpus"

Posted by: Arthur | Apr 29, 2006 12:54:43 AM

yikes!! never trust the chinese press. each and every major character's manner of death is given away. (pressing button to erase memory)

Posted by: ed | Apr 29, 2006 5:47:17 PM

The association the director tried to make re politics between Hong Kong and China makes me laugh out loud. Hong Kong is at the lower hand. Power (the stick) is in Chinese government's hand. They can give it to whoever they want.

PRC Police: "Not that we don't believe in election, but what happened if the one got elected 2 years later is no good?" -------- I think: "Haha"

Koo answered "So you want us to be like "Sun Gay"? power passed from father to son? Fxxk You......... " --------- I can't stop associating "Sun Gay" with "Sun Ga Por", i.e. Singapore, the kind of dictatorship / governance which the PRC government admire and approve to a certain extent.

and where's the Hong Kong Police? They completely disappear from the scene in the power struggle among the gangs (except for those "two hit six"(Cantonese, meaning "small potato") HK police playing a small role in that coffin scene)...... the gangs are no longer regulated by the HK Police, but by PRC Police.

So like what Koo said, re PRC Government, perhaps we might wonder: "Should I say you guys are versatile, or should I be afraid of you?"

I'm a Hong Konger, and I think the movie did say the things that a lot of people in Hong Kong are thinking. And it is, for me, the main lingering taste I was left with. But some of my friends who are not so into politics do get those jokes / association that I have, and those who don't get it usually said Part 1 is better than Part 2... for that reason I'm not sure if it will do better in the box office than Part 1.

Posted by: L | May 1, 2006 9:16:39 AM

what did u guys think of the small story line with Lok's kid?? I wish they got deeper into that because there were only small parts. Anyone has a take on this?

Posted by: Stace | Jan 4, 2007 7:38:12 PM

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