A darker, more grueling, "Godfather"-esque sequel to his acclaimed 2005 crimer, Hong Kong helmer Johnnie To's "Election 2" is distinguished by intelligence, wit and violence but is lightly wounded by some ill-fitting moments. Pic will win approval from the first film's fans, but, despite excellent performances from a cast full of To regulars and a generally tight structure, it won't quite knock the original off its perch. Auds should vote for this locally, where the politics that inform the allegorical finale will find their warmest reception, and Western fest action looks in the cards.
Using archival photographs, prologue rapidly sketches the origins of Hong Kong's Triads, detailing how, in the 19th century, Chinese immigrants flooded into the then-British colony and banded together for protection.
Post-titles, modern-day gang boss-cum-businessman Jimmy Lee (Louis Koo) pitches a deal to the Mainland government's Trade Office to set up a manufacturing plant in China. The deal has been brokered by Hong Kong financial backer Kwok (Mok Sing-lun) who, in guiding Jimmy to legitimacy, warns him, "Your past should not hurt our future."
Accordingly, when Triad chairman Lok (Simon Yam, excellent) announces one of his five "grandsons" will replace him in the impending Triad election, odds-on favorite Jimmy declines the nomination to clean up his business practices.
With Jimmy out of contention, Lok contemplates breaking with Triad tradition and seeking re-election himself. He plays his proteges off against each other, promising each one his backing as his successor.
Meanwhile, China Security Bureau rep Xi (Yao Yung) runs a sting and strips Jimmy of his Chinese business visa. Xi then offers Jimmy a Faustian pact: If Jimmy gets elected Triad chairman, the Chinese government will reinstate his business visa.
Co-writers Yau Nai-hoi and Yip Tin-shing's narrative is brisk and clear. However, the script stumbles with a subplot about Lok's son which, while providing pic's most poignant moment, feels stitched-on, and with the character of Lok supporter Fat Head (To veteran Lam Suet), whose role is awkwardly articulated and strictly functional. Additionally, a sequence which recalls the Abu Ghraib scandal feels distasteful, despite the centrality of torture to the narrative.
Overall, yarn has several echoes of the "Godfather" series -- most noticeably in Jimmy's business ambitions, mirroring Michael Corleone's desire to make his family business "legitimate" -- though it does succeed on its own terms. Plenty of scope is left for even more sequels.
Perfs are top-notch, with Koo ably assuming the narrative's mantle of importance, just as his character aspires to do. Supports are strong across the board.
Fine widescreen lensing by To regular Cheng Siu-keung plays up the chiaroscuro, and snippets from Lo Ta-yu's invigorating score for the original film add oomph. However, latter tend to emphasize the shortcomings of Robert Ellis-Geiger's new music, which is on the maudlin side. Other tech credits are first-rate.
Handle to the Chinese title is a gangland peacemaking phrase which roughly translates as "harmony is a virtue."
Camera (color/B&W, widescreen), Cheng Siu-keung; editors, Law Wing-cheong, Jeff Cheung; music, Robert Ellis-Geiger; art director, Tony Yu; sound (Dolby Digital), May Mok, Charlie Lo. Reviewed at Hong Kong Film Festival (opener), April 4, 2006. Running time: 92 MIN.
(Cantonese, Mandarin dialogue)