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STUDIO:  Tartan Video
MSRP: $19.95
RATED:  NOT RATED
RUNNING TIME:  93 Minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES:
- The Making of Triad Election
- Interview with Lam Suet
- Interview with Lam Ka Tung
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- English & Spanish Subtitles

The Pitch

Although it’s a generic endorsement; The Godfather: Hong Kong really does suit the film’s sensibilities quite well.

The Humans

Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Ka Tung Lam, Suet Lam, Nick Cheung

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It was at that point Yau began to regret his choice in heist mask.

The Nutshell

Picking up two years after the last film left off, we find the Triads in another election year with Chairman Lok being expected to relinquish his reins over the Triads, giving up the dragon baton to the next Chairman in waiting. Being groomed for the position is Jimmy (Koo), whose interests lie more with developing his business than with the organized crime system.  However, Lok doesn’t plan on giving up his control over the Triads, and he’s amassing a group of followers to eliminate any and all competition while at the same time Jimmy is realizing he’s going to have to make some concessions as a human being and businessman in order to realize his dreams of expanding into China. 

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Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get P.F. Chang’s?

The Lowdown

Full confession here as I start this review: I have yet to see the film this is a sequel to, Election, but I feel that since the American marketing doesn’t want to let you in on the fact this is a sequel (only the 2 in the opening credits lets you know of this) I’m on safe ground looking at the film critically. I feel like it stands enough on its own and I don’t feel like I was behind the eight-ball in terms of the plot machinations or characters in this film (although I’m sure there’s a emotional investment that I’d have beyond what I drew through the film had I been with some of these characters for a previous go), and the film seems to stand alone quite well. To the movie’s credit, it has made me eager to see the first film in this series, and hopeful that To will follow this through to a logical conclusion (even though this feels self-contained, there’s definitely room for a third film, possibly more with the direction the final scenes push the film towards). There’s a definite “middle of a trilogy” vibe to this film where you can feel that you’re not getting the big operatic ending, but on a certain level I didn’t care: This was a genuinely intense and suspenseful gangster picture with assured direction by To and a clearly formed identity; building gracefully to a conclusion of horribly violent proportions while never once straying from genuine character shifts that are derived from the progression of the film’s storyline.

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Post-coital nicotine ingestion or kinky menage a trois with The Fog?  You decide.

One of To’s gifts as a filmmaker here is to build a sense of slowly creeping dread and then ratchet up the violence as the film rolls along, reaching a crescendo with its storytelling at the same time as the physicality. There’s a clarity of purpose from To (not just blowing one’s load in terms of spectacle in the early going is a problem that plagues many ultra violent films, in my estimation) that is refreshing to see in a movie. And a note about the violence in this film: you’ve assuredly seen more brutal and explicit gore in other pictures before (after all, you’re a loyal CHUD reader), but there’s an emotional intensity and physical proximity in these violent acts that make them truly resonate. These people use blunt instruments of destruction at close range at one another and the psychological side of these betrayals and violent outbursts help punctuate the actual violence of the act itself. The performances are solid all across the board and the real star here is To’s work behind the camera. He builds up a sense of dread throughout numerous sequences where you realize the characters are in way over their heads and something bad is sure to come from their actions and pacts made with one another. This all builds to a cacophony of violence towards the end where the characters are finally lashing out in the open (broad daylight even, heightening the fever dream quality of the building dread) and showing their true colors (almost uniformly those of self-preservation and what’s best for them). It’s a slow burn that pays off instead of fizzling, and there’s something to be said for that.

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I’ve got twenty on the car.

This isn’t a perfect film by any means, though. It feels slight even with its sense of pervasive dread, as though every character could’ve used a few more scenes of fleshing out in order to build the stakes even higher. It’s nice to have a lean and spare picture, but it feels more emaciated than muscular and could use a little more heft to make the scenes really count.  Also, I mentioned earlier that is feels like this is moving indefinitely towards a third film, and there’s the middle child syndrome at play somewhat as it feels transitional as though it’s building to something apocalyptically huge at some point. This could be unfounded, but it feels like the sense of dread hasn’t fully evaporated from the characters as of yet. Time will tell.  While not perfect, it’s a solid little crime film with some spectacular building of suspense and an assured directorial hand from To. Recommended.

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Just whistle while you work…

The Package

The cover art is understated but foreboding, and is a nice piece of stylish promotional work to sell the film on. It looks and sounds rock solid, as well, so the experience of watching the film will be as visceral as the subject matter depicted. The extras are a mixed bag, though.  You get a six minute making of featurette that provides some welcome social context to the filmmaking, showing that To wanted to depict the current Hong Kong landscape and its state of transition from the previous more traditional background to its modern incarnation. In its six minutes it manages to be infinitely more enlightening than the half hour of interview footage with a couple of the actors. Perhaps something was lost in the translation (after all, one of the actors reads as saying “To directs from the stomach” as he points to his head), but a lot of the questions are generic and the answers are meandering and often pertain only faintly to the question asked. Lam Ka Tung’s interview fares much better as he gets more specifically into his personal experiences instead of speaking in generalities, but neither of these interviews are particularly worth watching. Also included are the original theatrical trailer a handful of trailers for Tartan’s ‘Asia Extreme’ line, the majority of which utilize somewhat striking image compositions in the framing of a late 80’s/early 90’s American action picture trailer.  While the extras are weak, this is still a solid if underachieving film.  Worth seeking out.

7.3 out of 10