DIY Cannes 2013: Election

election-050507To stave off the depression of not being at Cannes while everyone I follow on Twitter gabs about their new favorite discoveries, I’ve decided to take the opportunity and hold my own film festival. Every night, I’m going to watch a movie I haven’t seen by one of the director’s debuting on the Croisette. Thanks to the power of Netflix, so many foreign movies and older auteur classics are available for Instant Streaming. Who knows what discoveries I might find along the way?

Movie #2: Election (2005)

Director: Johnnie To

His Cannes 2013 Film: Blind Detective

While I would say that I am more versed in Chinese cinema than the average person, which is to say I’ve seen a total of… 5 or 6 Chinese language movies, I’m still no expert. So with this year’s new film from Hong Kong director Johnnie To, I get to expand that horizon just a little bit more.

According to IMDb, Election is the movie To is most known for, so I feel like it was a great starting place. To say that this is unilaterally a film about the Triad gang in China would be an understatement. It is literally about nothing else. Is that a bad thing? Not really.

After about 15 minutes the puzzle pieces are in play. It opens with all of the elders, translated as “Uncles,” voting on who should be the next Chairman of their mafia for the next 2 years. We have yet to really meet the 2 candidates at any length. Some support Lam Lok (played by Simon Yam) and others support Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai). It takes all of 3 seconds to learn that Big D really is a big d. He’s been bribing everyone, and when a couple of the Uncles cross him, he boards them up into crates and rolls them down a hill. We have a villain. And a deliciously fun villain at that.

Thanks to the kindly man who seems to carry the most weight (it’s a pun… trust me) with the mafia, Lam Lok wins the chairmanship. Big D refuses to acknowledge this and a gang war ensues. That’s about it. The rest is just a gruesome, bloody, twisty-turny power struggle.

Johnnie To proves himself to be an incredible manager of all these chess pieces. In a movie that has more plot than North by Northwest, he never lets the audience forget who is on what side and what stakes are at play. It’s so fast, so engaging, and there are some really neat set pieces… but what’s the point? It’s just a good vs. evil fairy tale. Nothing more. If you’re not looking for fantastic higher meaning in your Chinese Crime Drama, then look no further! It’s like John Woo meets Martin Scorsese.

While writing that last sentence I had the idea that it could be some greater political message about the Chinese government and its relation to Hong Kong. To that point I say… sure. Go write your thesis on that. As someone who is actually invested in Chinese politics, I didn’t see it. But it could be there.

P.S. I am not a racist, but I was worried that in a movie with all Chinese middle aged male actors, I wasn’t going to be able to tell the characters apart. It’s a problem I have regardless of race. I honestly can’t tell main characters apart in The Godfather. They all look the same! I was pleased to find out that by 20 or 30 minutes in, I knew who everyone was, what side of the war they were on, and why they were important. To that I say, Bravo, Johnnie To.

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