It is now 2 years after the events of “Election”, and the Wo Sing Hong Kong Triads are once again set to elect a new Chairman as per tradition, which requires that one new Chairman be selected every two years and for only one term, without exceptions. This last part proves to be unacceptable for the current Chairman, Lok (Simon Yam), who had previously murdered his best friend and rival for the job at the end of the first film. With the “Uncles” set to elect the gang’s top money earner, the business-minded Jimmy (Louis Koo) despite the young man’s insistence that he doesn’t care for the position, Lok sets a bloody chain of events in motion to ensure a second term.
“Election 2” is very much the perfect continuation of “Election”, with the filmmakers retaining all the elements of the first film without missing a beat. Once more, the action comes in spurts, while the real meat of the story is its gangland politics, changing loyalties, and double crosses among the various factions vying for the position of Chairman. As was the case with “Election”, while Johnnie To and his screenwriters allow us to feel some empathy toward these men of the Wo Sing Society, we are never allowed to forget that they are men of tremendous violence, capable of actions we can never fathom or approve of. Their legacy is seep in blood, their lifestyle drenched in darkness and neverending fear, and there is always the acknowledgement that, no matter how high you climb, you are never too high to fall.
“Election 2” offers up an overarching subplot involving Mainland China ‘s interference in Triad politics, with the Triads as stand-ins for Hong Kong itself. With his business in China , the source of his ambitious expansion, threatened by Chinese law enforcement, Jimmy is forced to seek the Chairman position of the Wo Sing. The fact that Jimmy is encouraged to kill his way to the top in order to maintain his illegal holdings in China would most assuredly strike a cord with many Hong Kongers, who have always looked at the Chinese Government ever since the 1997 handover from British rule with more than a little suspicion. It would seem to be this distrust that the film, in particular its Big Reveal at the end, clobbers home.
What sustains much of “Election 2” is the quiet, visceral struggle between Simon Yam’s sociopathic Lok and Louis Koo’s quiet, unassuming Jimmy. The two men’s battles involve returning cast member Jet (Nick Cheung), Lok’s right-hand man, who has been living in the shadows, in squalor, as Lok makes promises. One suspects that Jet knows Lok’s promises are empty, but left with few options, he follows in lock step anyway. Ultimately it is the power struggle between Jimmy and Lok, filled with unpredictable twists and (ultimately logical) bloody conclusions, that makes “Election 2” as good as it is. Buoyed by two tremendous actors capable of playing more than what is given to them on the written page, “Election 2” comes off without a hitch.
For those who have already seen “Election”, part two doesn’t offer anything new. Once more, there are still no heroes to root for, as every character eventually gets their hands bloody in order to achieve their ends. Forget about the wild gunfights of John Woo movies, or the popcorn nature of the “Young and Dangerous” franchise. One gets the feeling that Johnnie To and company has really captured the true spirit of the Triads, and if this isn’t how things actually are, it nevertheless feels true. The lifestyle is a neverending cycle of violence, greed, ambition, and ultimately, terrible soul-wrenching destruction. Witness Lok chasing his son toward the end of the film just to understand how much of a price the humbly dressed gangster has paid for his Triad ambitions.
Despite being a rushed sequel, “Election 2” proves to be a slight improvement over the first film. To’s direction remains minimalist, edgy, and to the point, and the approach to gangland activities are still immerse in shadows and viscerally and suddenly violent, as they should be. For fans of the franchise, the film has done well enough that Hong Kong producers are probably scrambling to get an “Election 3” put together. But while I wouldn’t mind the continued adventures of Louis Koo’s Jimmy, I find Nick Cheung’s Jet much more fascinating. Where does he come from? What does he want? And just how far is he willing to go to achieve his ends? These are questions I wouldn’t mind exploring in “Election 3”.
Johnnie To (director) / Nai-Hoi Yau, Tin-Shing Yip (screenplay)
CAST: Simon Yam …. Lok
Louis Koo …. Jimmy
Nick Cheung …. Jet
Siu-Fai Cheung …. Mr. So
Ka Tung Lam …. Kun
Suet Lam …. Big Head
Mark Cheng … Bo
Tian-lin Wang …. Uncle Teng