Election (2005)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2009-04-20
As the story opens in the sharp edged and ultraviolent “Election” the leaders of two factions are vying for leadership of the Wo Sing organization. Some of the tactics are commonplace: vote for me and I will give you a stack of money while others are less traditional: vote for me or I will kill you and your family. At first there is no consensus concerning the next chairman. Lok is a low-key, efficient criminal bureaucrat who is as ruthless as any scoundrel in Hong Kong but one who likes to keep his villainy quiet. Big D is flamboyant and flashy, happy to run his criminal operations on an almost ad hoc basis, making up the rules as he goes along.

While it seems there is a clear cut choice between the two candidates there are conflicting loyalties among the electors, the seniors or uncles of Wo Sing. Some favor Big D because he promises to expand their territory while others like Lok who promises a better cut from payoff for illegal activities. There are also personal ties—Lok paid to have the body of a brother who had been killed in Cambodia brought back and given a funeral while Big D paid a brother’s bail out of his own pocket. Both have what seems to be unlimited access to neatly folded stacks of bank notes which they pass out the way Andrew Carnegie gave away dimes. The basic unit of exchange is $100,000 (HK). Things are further complicated when Big D shows an uncontrollable temper which scares some of the electors and angers others.

Then there is the baton, a carved wooden totem that symbolizes leadership of Wo Sing. A significant part of the movie concerns each side trying to possess it with hijackings, near fatal assault--Lam Suet is beaten with a huge log while repeating to his assailant the basis of the Triad oath—if he betrays a brother he will be killed with ten thousand knives, if he embezzles from a brother he will be killed with 500 thunderbolt—and murder by chopper. Once the baton is finally recovered from its hiding place on the Mainland after a huge expenditure of blood and treasure it isn’t referred to again. The baton is a perfect MacGuffin, a plot element becomes central to the action of the plot but has no bearing on the outcome. The Wo Sing baton joins such notable MacGuffins as the letters of transit in “Casablanca”, the statue of the bird in “The Maltese Falcon” and the contents of the briefcase in “Pulp Fiction”.

Things break in Lok’s favor when Big D threatens to start a “New Wo Sing Organization”. Even the Anti-Corruption and Triad cops are concerned about this development—they are frankly concerned with peace and harmony in the underworld, allowing everyone thrive and no one getting hurt. Big D finally capitulates. He and Lok collaborate on the ambush and murder of an important rival and things seem calm in Triadville. The last scenes take place in a peaceful bucolic—Lok and his son, Big D and his wife sitting on a river bank fishing. It ends with sudden, frightening and very cold-blooded violence.

An excellent crime drama from the masterful Johnny To with the additional fillip scene of Triad initiation.
Reviewer Score: 7