The Triads are a bit of an odd duck in terms of how they decide their new leaders, at least in Hong Kong anyway. While in the Mafia, the second in command (Underboss) ascends to the top spot when the boss dies, retires or is imprisoned, and other organized crime groups determine succession based on family ties, or just having the head of the organization hand-pick a successor, the Triads, at least in this film, pick their new head by a vote of all of the heads of the various crews.
That sets up the backstory of this crime thriller which owes more to The Godfather than to A Better Tomorrow. The two candidates for election when this story begins are the violent, hotheaded Big D, played by Tony Leung Ka-Fai (A Better Tomorrow 3, and several other Johnny To films), and quieter, cunning and devious Lok, played by Simon Yam (John Woo’s Bullet in the Head, King of Killers/Contract Killer co-starring with Jet Li, and the first 3 Young and Dangerous movies). The winner getting not only control of the Triads in Hong Kong, but also the Dragon Baton, a powerful symbol of ones control over the Hong Kong Triad.
However, in the Hong Kong Triad, elections are obtained with not only money, but blood as well. When Big D refuses to accept the results of the Election, the race is on to find the Dragon Baton in it’s hiding place in mainland China, and much blood ends up being shed. However, Hong Kong, real Hong Kong, is not a place of the gun ballets of John Woo. Instead fights are with machetes, martial arts, and any other thing that’s handy. They’re brutal and horrific.
They also aren’t frequent. I brought up The Godfather for a reason. This is a film where there is a lot of political maneuvering is done, a lot of backroom deals in gambling parlors, in restaurants, and even holding cells. This is not a film for someone with a short attention span, or someone who needs a lot of action scenes. That said, the action scene we got (a martial arts fight in an ally) was pretty good, but also kept the film’s dark and brutal tone. The rest of the deaths in the film though (and there are several), are very much in keeping with the movie’s Godfather tone, violent and brutal executions, including a few where characters are simply beaten to death or choked to death with whatever is handy. Beaten with a log or a rock, choked to death with a branch.
So, if you think Hong Kong crime cinema begins and ends with action films, hopefully Election will change your opinion, and will give you a new take on the genre.