Friday, September 01, 2006

Election 2 [Triad Election] (Johnnie To)

Election 2 [Triad Election] (Johnnie To) 61 - I've seen far too many action movies over the last few years that ended with an ineffective cliffhanger that advertises the next installment of the franchise more than it instills any sense of excitement. Thanks to its slam-bang third act and its jaw-dropping closing scenes, Johnnie To's Election managed to be one of the few finales that resulted in me actively anticipating its follow-up. If Election 2 doesn’t exactly surpass its predecessor, it at least delivers on the promise of moral decay that its predecessor deemed inevitable. Election 2 opens lakeside, in order to bring to mind the first film's unforgettable waterfront finale. It starts, two years after the first chapter’s end, with Jimmy (Louis Koo) pitching a business plan to legitimate businessmen, and not to other gangsters. The suggestion that what passes for lawful business might be more profitable, and more corrupt, than crime, no matter how organized, is the central theme in this sequel.

In this movie, despite a prosperous time since the last Chairman election, plotting and backstabbing once again define the transitional period that the changing of the guard prompts. It takes To about half an hour to set up the political machinations that will define subsequent events, but once he does this, the director unleashes a series of effectively realized scenarios that thoroughly demonstrate the thuggery of the Triad. Much like its precursor, Election 2 feels like a HK version of The Godfather. Individual elements, like the Brandoesque presence of Uncle Teng (Wong Tin-lam), and the overall emphasis on the gangsters’ morality play into this familiarity. That’s not to say, though, that To is ripping off Coppola. He certainly adds his own strong stylistic touches here, such as his eerily empty cityscapes, his restrained approach to screen violence and the return of the same propulsive cowboy music that marked the first film. As in Election no gun is fired during Election 2, though now the novelty has slightly worn off, making the absence more conspicuous than distinctive. However, that’s one of the few returning devices that fails to please a second time in this worthy extension of the original. Perhaps most impressively of all, like the first movie, it disturbingly underlines the notion that the authorities prefer the organized chaos of the Triad’s system to the alternative. This disturbing social order, both inside and outside the Triad, is the series’ defining characteristic. Because of its emphasis, this installment satisfies, even if another sequel feels inevitable.

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