Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Movies: Election (2005)/Triad Election (2006)

Now that’s what I’m talking about. This Johnny To double-bill, available on DVD, has it all: drama, action, suspense. It’s an epic told with economy. You can watch both films in a little over three hours.

Election lays out its premise in a handful of galvanizing scenes. Every two years, the gangs of Hong Kong choose a new chairman. The upcoming race is between Lok (Simon Yam), a steady hand who has planned his ascension for ages, and Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai), the wild man who’s generating a lot of income for his bosses. The campaign involves both politicking and extreme violence; I, for one, wish they’d deploy the same tactics in the Iowa caucuses. (If they did, Hillary would win in a landslide.) Nothing goes as you’d expect; Lok is more ruthless than he appears, Big D understands the wisdom of compromise, and the ending is a shocker.

Triad Election is darker and more disjointed than its predecessor, but ultimately cuts deeper. It picks up the story at the end of Lok’s term. (That might sound like a spoiler but trust me, it’s not.) Naturally, he wants one of the protégés who helped him secure power to succeed him. But his choice, Jimmy (Louis Koo), declines. He only joined the triads to further his business interests, and he’s about to close a deal in China that will make him completely legitimate. Lok decides to buck tradition and stand for reelection. As Lok amasses supporters and enemies, Jimmy learns his deal has been torpedoed by the Chinese government. They will reinstate it under one condition – that he challenge his godfather for the chairmanship.

The emphasis of the Election films isn’t on action, although To’s muscular and insinuating direction delivers the goods when the mayhem occurs. (Especially in Triad. Ouch.) The movies are about strategy, about how gaining authority and maintaining it require different skills. Mainly, though, they’re hugely entertaining, some of the best filmmaking I’ve seen this year.

Miscellaneous: Music Links

Via Paul Herzberg comes word that BBC Radio 1 is editing my favorite Christmas song. A lump of coal in their stocking, then.

The New Yorker’s David Remnick talks with The Bad Plus. I’m not only a fan of theirs but of Kiki & Herb, whose Carnegie Hall Christmas show is mentioned at the article’s close. Judging from this review, it was something to see.

Bonus! Here’s my review of a Kiki & Herb performance in Seattle. It’s from the early days of the site, when I posted every thought that came into my head.