Election (To, 2005)

Johnnie To is a director of such visual skill, his stories and characters often lack the dynamism of his style. His camera moves in and out of dark spaces, past obscured faces, capturing only the slightest hint of bloodshed even when brutality is openly apparent. But his characters always feel darkened as well, on the edge of revelation, and this is both awe-inspiring and frustrating. Election, To’s fascinating and problematic gangster film shines light on the democratic and corrupt process of electing a chairman to the head of the Triads. An instant paradox arises – gangsters willing to vote for a head of state, when notoriously they are represented as willing to kill anyone for power (Scorsese, Woo). To handles these ideas with a firm grip on the world in question, allowing his characters to develop at a slow rate, only revealing intentions late in the third act. Even then, the two-faced nature of both heads vying for power, Loc and Big D, are hidden by perception and doubt. The film complicates the gangster image while adhering to the genre, much how To did in Breaking News (cops vs. robbers) and PTU (cop loses his gun a la Stray Dog). Most of all, Election is an intriguing starting point for these shape-shifting characters, making Triad Election (the sequel) a must see. In that respect, To has succeeded greatly.

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