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Hong Kong Nocturne: The Films of Johnnie To

Wednesday, June 18, 2008
6:30 p.m. Election
Johnnie To (Hong Kong, 2005)

(Hak se wui). It’s politics as usual, literally, when a triad society attempts to nominate a new boss in this slow-burn, atmospheric gangster thriller that starts off like a near-documentary study and winds up on the far side of Shakespearean tragedy. Two men vie to become the new leader of the Wo Shing Society, with the becalmed, forward-looking Lok (Simon Yam) the front-runner over loose cannon Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai), who looks and acts like he stumbled out of a Kinji Fukasaku film. Neither can truly be boss, though, without the gang’s symbol, a centuries-old baton hidden in China. Both men send their minions to find the baton, but must contend with other gangsters angling for their own means. As fortunes rise and fall and allegiances shift (sometimes in the middle of one cell-phone call), Election moves from gangster film to tragicomedy to political satire, and boasts a finale that puts politicians’ claims of being “family men” and “fishing buddies” to an alarming end.

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Yau Nai-hoi, Yip Tin-shing. Photographed by Cheng Siu-keung. With Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung. (100 mins, In Cantonese with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From Tartan Films)