by Corey Hall
Triad Elections are even slicker and more brutal than those stateside these guys break more heads before breakfast than Soprano's crew could manage in a month of Sundays.
Director Johnnie To is a Hong Kong action workhorse, cranking out sometimes two or three high quality action pictures a year. Now he offers a sequel that delves even deeper into the violent, shadowy realm of his 2005 gangland thriller Election. The follow-up finds icy-veined HK boss Lok (Simon Yam) coming to the end of his term as head of the assembled Chinese crime families, and none too happy about giving up the mantle. His chief rival for the role is the younger, cooler-headed Jimmy (Louis Koo), favored for his fresh face and deep business contacts on the mainland. Problem is, he doesn't really want the gig, he's being forced into the role by the powers that be, but he'd rather go legit and cash in on major real estate developments. Though Jimmy dreams of escaping, "The Uncles" who call the shots won't allow it and keep reeling him back in.
The tangled net of alliances, rivalries and double-crosses that ensue loop and twist like a bowl of lo-mein on a spinning fork; and if it's hard to follow, it's easy to watch. The camera never stops roving, finding interesting angles and colorful backdrops for every secret meeting and brutal rub-out, with viciously creative set pieces piling up on each other.
One nasty bit involving drooling German shepherds, quivering stoolies and a hamburger meat grinder veers dangerously into Eli Roth territory, but is presented with just enough style to keep things aboveboard. It helps that the victims are lowlifes and thugs who knew the odds when they joined up, and that all the players in this moral universe are forever stained gray.
There's elegance to the seedy goings-on, with a sense of honor, code and tradition that puts a gloss on the bloodshed, and gives these crooks a sense of purpose on which to cling. At the center is Jimmy, conflicted, tortured and tragically noble, even as he commits the foulest evils. It's just enough to elevate the work above the hack-and-slash trash it could easily become, and it's fun to watch as the movie struggles against its darker impulses, just as its hero looks through the blackness from chunks of his soul.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237) at 7 p.m., Thursday, July 5; 7 and 9:30 p.m., Saturday, July 7; 4 and 7 p.m. on Sunday, July 8. In Chinese with English subtitles.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.