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Rival gang leaders are locked in a struggle to become the new chairman of Hong Kong's Triad society.
For more about Election and the Election Blu-ray release, see Election Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 5, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Johnnie To
Writers: Tin-Shing Yip, Nai-Hoi Yau
Starring: Simon Yam, Tony Ka Fai Leung, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, Ka Tung Lam, Siu-Fai Cheung
» See full cast & crew
Election Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 5, 2009
Nominated for Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Johnnie To's gritty gangster drama "Election" (2005) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Hong Kong-based distributors Panorama. All of the special features are placed on a separate SDVD. Amongst them are exclusives interviews with Johnnie To and cast members, Making-of documentary and more. All of the supplemental features are perfectly playable on Region-A hardware. English-friendly and Region-Free.
The Wo Shing Society, a powerful triad with thousands of sworn members, must elect a new chairman. His term would be exactly two years. The two main candidates are Lok (Simon Yam, Sparrow), a young and ambitious businessman with plenty of respect for the elderly members of the organization, and Big D (Tony Leung Ka Fai, Zhou Yu's Train), a flashy and outspoken mobster placing his personal interests ahead of the the Wo Shing Society's well-being.
Before the crucial election, the two candidates work hard to secure as many votes as possible in what many believe would be a close contest. However, Lok wins convincingly. He is immediately congratulated by the most powerful triad leaders.
Big D goes berserk. He kidnaps two of the leaders who voted against him and tortures them. He also steals the symbolic Dragon Head baton, which each new chairman must have in his possession before he assumes duties, and hides in the Mainland. Uncle Teng (Wang Tin-lam, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts), a respected leader, immediately condemns Big D's actions and warns him that if he does not return the Dragon Head baton war would be inevitable. Big D threatens to create his own triad.
Sensing that there is tension between the different factions in the Wo Shing Society, HKPF (the Hong Kong Police Force) capture its leaders and throw them in jail. A high ranking official urges them to figure out their differences quickly and peacefully, if they are to continue running their businesses. Uncle Teng gives Big D an ultimatum – accept the election result or prepare for war.
Meanwhile, Lok and Big D's men collide in the Mainland. Eventually, the Dragon Head baton is brought back to Hong Kong and given to Lok. Now he is officially the new chairman of the Wo Shing Society. Big D immediately congratulates him. Shortly after, he decides to test Lok and his men.
Anyone expecting to see plenty of mindless action in Johnnie To's Election will be gravely disappointed. This is a film that explores the complex hierarchy of triad organizations without glorifying them. Furthermore, crime is addressed in a notably plain fashion, without the glamor most directors like to attach to it.
It takes awhile to figure out all of the different characters that populate the narrative. Many of them have tiny roles that seem incomprehensible. It is also difficult to immediately find out what faction of the Wo Shing Society they represent.
The sense of chaos, however, that permeates the film is intentional. The idea is to show how incredibly difficult it is for an outsider to grasp the rules and regulations triad members follow. This transforms Election into an intricate puzzle that will resonate differently with different viewers.
Technically, Election dazzles. Cinematographer Cheng Siu-keung's (Mad Detective) lensing is simple but elegant. The use of light – particularly during the election and the inauguration ceremony – is crucial to the film's impressive look. Patrick Tam's (Ashes of Time Redux) editing is tight, serving the narrative well. As it is the case with most every To film, music plays a very important role in Election. Lo Tayu's (The Big Heat) score has a distinctive new age feel to it.
Election Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Johnnie To's Election arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Hong Kong-based distributors Panorama.
Generally speaking, I am pleased with how Panorama have treated Johnnie To's Election. As I noted in my analysis above, this is a film with a very complex construction where light has a very specific role. As a result, there are many scenes where heavy shadows cover the faces of the main protagonists. The intent is to further enhance the gloomy atmospehere permeating through Election. This being said, contrast, clarity and detail range from good to excellent. Mild edge-enhancement occasionally pops up here and there, but I don't think that it would affect your viewing experience. Macroblocking is not a serious issue of concern. I have not seen Election theatrically, so I am unsure how accurate the color-scheme is. Considering the overall tone of the film, however, I believe that a lot of the overpowering grays, light blues, light yellows, and bleached blacks are intentional. This being said, even though the print occasionally has a tendency to look a bit overcompressed, it looks good when blown through a digital projector. Finally, I noticed a few minor specks popping up here and there but did not see any disturbing scratches, debris, or dirt. (Note: This is a Region-Free disc. Therefore, you will be able to play it on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location).
Election Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are three audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1. I opted for the Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track and later on did a few random comparisons with the other two tracks for the purpose of this review.
This is the second disc I tested this weekend, after Junebug, that really impressed me with its audio. The Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is notably well mixed. Yes, there are a few loud action scenes that sound great, but I was more impressed with how well the Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track treats Lo Tayu's outstanding soundtrack - the dynamics are excellent. This said, the dialog is crisp, clear and very easy to follow. There are no balance issues that I detected either. I did not hear any disturbing pops, clicks, or hissings..
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track is not a match for the Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Listen to the music score and you will hear the dramatic difference in terms of dynamics between the two tracks. For the record, Panorama have provided optional English, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
Election Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
(Note: All of the supplemental features are placed on a separate SDVD. All are in 480/60i and perfectly playable on Region-A players. All of the supplemental features arrive with optional English and Simplified Chinese subtitles).
Exclusive interview with Johnnie To - the director talks about the history of his film, what it attempts to convey, the history of triad culture in Hong Kong, etc. (29 min).
Exclusive interviews with selected actors - Tony Leung Ka Fai (16 min), Wang Tianin (8 min) and Simon Yam (7 min). The actors discuss their characters as well as what it mean to work with Johnnie To.
Making of documentary - a quick look at the triad culture in Hong Kong and how it is portrayed in cinema. (8 min)
Election at the Cannes Film Festival - a collage of photos from the event. (1 min).
Trailers - two theatrical trailers.
TV Spots - two TV spots.
Photo Gallery -
Election Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
There is a good reason why Johnnie To's films are often in competition at the Cannes Film Festival - they have a style and look of their own. Election is not an exception. It is a notably moody piece with great story. Don't miss it! Highly recommended.
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