By midlandsmovies, Apr 10 2016 09:13PM
New writer Guy Russell took a trip to Derby's QUAD Cinema for their season of Hong Kong crime films and took a look at a film Tarantino described as "the best film of the year" - 2005's Election. Read his thoughts on this Asian crime classic below...
Election (2005) Dir. Johnnie To
This thrilling Hong Kong crime picture from infamous director Johnnie To commands your attention from the first minute and never let’s go. “Election” pits two gang leaders against each other, each vying for the top position within their Triad organisation. When Lok (Simon Yam) comes out successful, his unorthodox rival Big D (Tony Ka Fai Leung) refuses to accept the defeat threatening Lok and others with an inevitable street war.
Many critics argue that To is Hong Kong’s answer to Scorsese, a compliment that is hard to shrug off seeing as both filmmakers have spent a large part of their career directing stylish gangland epics.
2005’s Election is no different.
Staples of gangster films are on exhibition here, honour, brotherhood and loyalty. The violence however sets To’s “Election” apart from the others, rarely do guns come into the fore in this film instead rivals are placed in wooden crates and purposefully fired from the top of a mountain.
Substituting gore and bloodshed for traditional and simple torture techniques “Election” focuses on shocking its audience with the history and the motives of these characters rather than with shock treatment. Also in a scene to rival To’s American counterpart Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” famous ‘who’s funny’ scene, a gang member is jokingly told to eat a porcelain spoon along with his meal which he does in a strikingly confident manner.
Shot in a stylistic and vibrant manner by Cheng Siu-Keung, the cinematography succeeds in showing how beautiful China and Hong Kong are. The freedom of the countryside contrasts against the seemingly growing decay of the streets that are filled with garish karaoke bars and strip clubs.
As I said earlier, the violence displayed in the film makes the viewer aware of how different the film is, the story and its themes are served the same way.
What’s interesting is that the film spends a large amount of time with the many captains within the triad discussing who is to become the next chairman of the organisation. The inner workings of the Triads will fascinate those who also find other infamous gangs interesting.
It’s refreshing to see a Film or TV show dedicate itself to showing the hierarchy and politics of these morally absent characters. Not since David Chases ‘The Sopranos’ have I seen such a project show so much interest in exploring the world of its subject matter. Standout performance of this film belongs to the unstable and ambitious Big D played by Tony Ka Fai Leung, his performance is anchored by the quiet and focused Lok (Simon Yam). Leung plays Big D like a hyperactive child, his goals become more unachievable as his temper grows.
The only disappointing aspect of the film is it ends up feeling like a set up for a more explosive sequel, the war that is constantly being threatened throughout the film never comes to fruition which could frustrate a viewer expecting a violent gangland thriller.
It was a joy watching this film recently as part of Derby QUAD’s Hong Kong Crime Season, especially as it was screened in the glorious 35mm. There is plenty on offer here to quench the thirst of any film fan and if you’re like me and missed this in 2005 I would highly recommend this gem of a film.
QUAD is Derby’s centre for art and film, on the Market Place in Derby city centre. QUAD is a gallery, cinema, café bar and workshop that anyone can use. QUAD is a partnership between Derby City Council and Arts Council England.