Election (Hak se wui)
From the moment this film begins you realise that there's going to be a lot more to it than a typical gangster movie. Instead of stylish action the titles suggest that this film will be slower and more thoughtful, and for the most part it delivers just that.
The film looks at the election of the next head of the triads, a position that binds the Uncles who control organised crime in different areas of the city together. It brings coordination and control as well as peace across the country, and that's just how everyone including the Police like it.
From conversations between the Uncles and a few initial meetings we are given a picture of the two main contenders, one is quieter and controlled, while the other is volatile and aggressive, trying to rule all with money and violence.
The other Uncles are split on who to choose and thus the drama for the storyline is born and we begin to see the struggle for power between the two as they hunt down the symbol that signifies control of the triad empire.
This story is written really well, you find yourself drawn to the family bonding within the group, despite the fact that this is clearly a group who would turn to extortion, violence and even murder without a second thought. Yet you identify with the kinship and to a degree even yearn for that type of brotherhood.
The characters are strong and contrasting, and in the case of the more violent candidate, Big D, almost too contrasting. He's very much an extreme, which contrasts nicely against the other candidate Lok, but there is a definite feeling of this just being a bit too close to comedy. Perhaps this was the desire when he was written, to give that feeling of close to the edge, unhinged and ready to explode at any moment. However the character does sometimes come close to being overplayed.
The entire cast is good, but there is a problem, the cast seems too big, or rather I found it hard to keep track of who was who, and who was working for which Uncle. What it does do is follow the tradition of Asian films and expects you to keep up, so if you don't know what's going on you'll just keep going with the flow and figure it out later. That's not an altogether bad thing as you are made to think and don't get the plot handed to you on a plate, and it's never so hard that you can't follow what's happening after a scene or two.
There are some nicely conceived shots throughout the movie, although there were a few focussing issues along the way, the picture looked very strong. This was apparent from the darkness of the triad rooms, to the day time mountain shots, and through the many night time action shoots, some of which look very gritty and painfully real.
There are some pretty violent scenes, and although you really don't see anything they are portrayed in the most realistic fashion. The aftermath of the machete fight, the stone beating, taking over the club from the current boss, are just some of the scenes that make you wonder how many accidents there were with people really getting hurt.
Yet it's never too much for the story, and in fact this film manages to keep the violence quite low key for the story. There are a lot more speeches, discussion, thoughtful, reflective moments than you might expect from a full on gangster film. At times the violence might seem a little comical, but when it decides to be dramatic and violent, it hits hard.
Interestingly I never really knew where this movie was going to end. It seemed to have a number of natural beats where the story could have halted, but yet it kept going and ultimately drove through to a very fitting climax. One which contrasts sharply to a lot of what we have seen and reminds you very pointedly the dangerous lifestyle of organised crime.
The pace did seem to falter near the end on a number of occasions, possibly coinciding with one of the natural story beats that felt like an ending but wasn't, but it didn't hurt the film too much, as quickly as it lost its way, it came back with a very strong ending.
Overall the movie showed the triad way of life as quite alluring and exclusive, like a Masonic lodge with famous people as its members. All the trappings of life and the backing and protection of your colleagues. Yet this is balanced well with later scenes, and the warning from one of the characters, if you want to stay in the triads then make it to number one, otherwise you'll be nothing.
It had a fair amount to say about choosing a life of crime and how your life becomes when you do, as well as about trust and tradition. All the while delivering it in a stylish way with some lighter moments. A slightly different look at your traditional gangster genre, and a good one too.