“Triad Election” – A.J. Hakari

As often as it may be the case, the old cinematic adage about a movie’s sequel never being as good as the first isn’t necessarily always a true one. Case and point, Triad Election. Its predecessor, Election (also directed by renowned Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To), felt more like an experimental crime drama, testing the genre waters with a wide array of characters and a varied list of stuff it wanted to accomplish. It was a flawed film, but it was still an asborbing one, and with having seen what worked and didn’t work, To seized the opportunity to craft Triad Election into an even more engaging crime saga, thanks to focusing more so on character-based drama than on piling up the double-crosses.

When viewers last left the world of the Chinese Triad’s Wo Sing Society, rising underworld star Lok (Simon Yam) had bruised, beaten, and cajoled his way into becoming the chairman of the organization. But two years have passed since Lok took power, and the time has come for the men of Wo Sing to carry on the tradition of electing a new chairman. The most prominent prospect is Jimmy (Louis Koo), an economics-savvy small-timer who made a fortune selling pirated DVDs but who now wants to leave the Triads behind and start anew with a legitimate business. Unfortunately, a series of unfortunate events land Jimmy in trouble with the law, refusing to let him even begin construction on his new enterprise — unless he’s elected chairman. Thus, Jimmy reluctantly begins his ascent up the criminal ladder, which is easier said than done after Lok decides to break free from tradition and run for a second term, more than willing to go to deadly lengths to ensure his re-election and take Jimmy out of the picture.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to refer to both Triad Election and its predecessor as Asian takes on The Godfather. They both tell stories that are centered more on the effect a criminal lifestyle has on a man’s life and soul than on how much blood can be shed during a gratuitous shootout sequence. But whereas Election felt a little too crowded with so many twists and unimportant side characters, Triad Election sheds all of that excess thematic fat and emerges as a leaner, more efficient, and enthralling gangster tale. Rather than depending on some sleight-of-hand tricks to maintain the viewer’s interest, Triad Election instead leaves the meat of the story in the hands of its lead characters, a wise investment that pays off in spades. Having already established Lok in Election, most of the focus is on Jimmy and how he’s dragged back into the world he hoped to escape, chronicling how the struggle gets tougher as Lok puts up a bloody fight to remain king of the hill.

But To doesn’t forget the first film’s lead player and proceeds to tell a more subtle story parallel to Jimmy’s, showing us a man so steeped in the criminal underworld, he barely reacts to his own son getting into a gang at school. You don’t necessarily need to have seen Election first, but it does help to have seen where Lok came from and how he got to where he is. Triad Election is all about traditions and legacies, at the center of its story a man who wants to continue his and another man who’s forced to start one whether he likes it or not, roles that are boosted by the pitch-perfect performances from Yam and Koo respectively. There’s just enough drama and just enough action (no prolonged car chases, but some brutal fights and torture scenes are in order here), set at a brisk yet fulfilling pace that allows viewers to take in the tastiest elements of the story without To adding any unnecessary additions to the recipe.

If there’s anything to complain about Triad Election, it’s that To doesn’t delve enough into the story. At a breezy 93 minutes, it’s not designed to be a sprawling saga the likes of The Godfather, but it goes without saying that the film may have benefited from a deeper exploration into the world of Wo Sing. But as is, Triad Election is one of the most expertly-made and involving of modern crime dramas, finding just as much success in telling the story of a guy who wants to avoid a life of crime as it does in simultaneously spinning the yarn of one man who’s holding on for dear life.


Rating: ★★★½


-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

One Response to ““Triad Election” – A.J. Hakari”

  1. Papa Larry H Says:

    I agree with you 100% A.J. It is one of the few foreign films that I have cared for. Papa Larry H

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