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See individual titles for their synopses.
For more about Triad Trilogy and the Triad Trilogy Blu-ray release, see the Triad Trilogy Blu-ray Review
Starring: Simon Yam, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, Ka Tung Lam, Siu-Fai Cheung, Suet Lam
Directors: Johnnie To, Ching-Po Wong
This Blu-ray release includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Triad Trilogy Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, May 22, 2012
Johnnie To's "Election" (2005) and "Election II" (2006) and Wong Ching-Po's "Triad Underworld" (2004) arrive on Blu-ray courtesy of Palisades Tartan. Unfortunately, there are no supplemental features to be found on this release. In Cantonese, with optional English and Spanish subtitles for each film. Region-A "locked".
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 II a.k.a Triad Election (2006)
Chairman Lok (Simon Yam, Sparrow) has led the Wo Shing Society to prosperity. Its leaders have become wealthier and expanded their business far beyond Hong Kong. Now that it is time for chairman Lok to step down, they are looking to elect a man who would continue his legacy.
Everyone agrees that if Jimmy Lee (Louis Koo, Flash Point), a young and ambitious businessman, decides to run for the post, he would certainly win. But if he does not, the selection of a new chairman would be an extremely challenging task.
Running the Wo Shing Society, however, is the last thing on Jimmy's mind. He is interested in teaming up with legit investors for the construction of a massive highway in China that would effectively separate him from his murky past.
While negotiating with a high-ranking government official, Jimmy is told that it will be impossible for him to invest in China unless he is well positioned within the Wo Shing Society. Confused and enraged, Jimmy goes back to Hong Kong and immediately announces his intention to run for a chairman.
Meanwhile, chairman Lok asks the leaders of the Wo Shing Society if they would agree to let him serve a second term. Most of them are displeased to hear that he is even entertaining the idea – one could never be a chairman twice in a row. But chairman Lok is convinced that he is the only man that could lead the different factions within the Wo Shing Society. He decides to eliminate Jimmy and retain the Dragon Head baton.
Johnnie To's follow up to his Election (2005) is a notably darker, more violent and disturbing film. Its narrative is far more complicated as well. Crime, politics, and globalization are the three key themes in the film.
Even though in Election II the two rivaling sides are well defined, there are a number of multi-faceted conflicts that effectively separate it film from Election. For example, director To's examination of the collaboration between the triad and the communist government in China is very convincing.
Nonetheless, Election II remains a notably minimalistic film. Some of the most effective scenes in it are silent. Director To and cinematographer Cheng Siu-keung create an incredibly tense environment that blends well with the film's narrative.
Louis Koo plays the young and cold-heartened Jimmy Lee to perfection. His character transformations are one of the key reasons why Election II is a better film than Election. For example, there is an utterly brutal scene during the second half of the film where Jimmy loses his mind and does something terrible, absolutely bloodcurdling. Immediately after that, he switches back to being a confident but cautious leader.
Simon Yam's character is not the focus of attention in Election II but is still crucial to the story. Nick Cheung, who plays his protégé Jet, is undoubtedly a pleasant surprise – his edgy performance is charged with an unbelievable amount of energy.
Film editor Patrick Tam is not on board for Election II, but Cheung Ka-kit (Black Night) and Law Wing-cheong (Tactical Unit: The Code) are just as effective. Composer Robert Ellis-Geiger (After This Our Exile) has replaced Lo Tayu, but his score is as atmospheric as that of his predecessor.
Triad Underworld a.k.a Blood Brothers (2004)
Shortly after the birth of his son, triad leader Hung (Andy Lau) meets his best man Lefty (Jacky Cheung). The two have dinner and Hung reveals to him that he wants to start spending more time with his family. Assuming that his boss is planning to retire, Lefty secretly orders his men to kill the other three bosses in the organization. This way, after Hung leaves, he will become the new leader.
But Hung isn't ready to step down. He is also concerned that once Lefty eliminates the other bosses and their families an all-out war for dominance will crumble the organization. Lefty, who is still loyal to Hung, agrees and vows to protect him for as long as he is willing to be a leader. At the same time, however, news reaches the two men that one of the bosses has already sent killers to eliminate Hung.
Meanwhile, two young mercenaries, Yik (Shawn Yue) and his best friend Turbo (Edison Chen), take a job which they believe will earn them the respect they always deserved. But before they locate their target, they are forced to change their plans.
Director Wong Ching-Po's Jiang Hu a.k.a Blood Brothers has a solid cast that undoubtedly demands a lot of respect, but it is disappointingly straightforward and surprisingly poorly edited. The film borrows from a number of action hits, from John Woo's The Killer (1989) to Herman Yau's War of the Underworld (1996) to Alan Mak and Lau Wai-keung'sInfernal Affairs (2002), and fails to tell a good story. There are glimpses of what could have been during the second half of the film where all of the opposing parties are identified, but instead of expanding the story director Wong Ching-Po and cinematographers Charlie and Kenny Lam spend a great deal of time promoting all sorts of different slow-motion action sequences that basically look like expensive promo clips for an entirely different film.
There are selected parts of the film where Andy Lau and Shawn Yue shine (the romance story with the prostitute is very good), but there is only so much they could do with a script that is riddled with clichés and meaningless lines about honor and loyalty.
Triad Trilogy Blu-ray, Video Quality
Encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted 1080p transfers, Johnnie To's Election and Election II and Wong Ching-Po's Triad Underworld arrive on Blu-ray courtesy of Palisades Tartan.
The screencaptures included with our review appear in the following order:
1. Election: 1-10.
2. Election II: 11-20.
3. Triad Underworld: 21-30.
The three transfers are atrocious. Frankly, I don't remember the last time I saw such poor presentations of contemporary films. (Even Cinema Libre's disappointing presentation of The Moon in the Gutter looks good now). The three films are placed on a BD-25 and, needless to say, compressed so badly that are virtually unwatchable. There are entire portions of Election, for instance, where all that I could see were large black spots instead of faces (see screencapture #7). Contrast, clarity, and color reproduction are also nowhere near close to where they should be, especially on Election and Election II. On the other hand, there is some serious encoding defect with the transfer for Triad Underworld - every once in a while the image twitches as if there is an entire frame missing. Also, colors constantly collapse, while banding is practically everywhere. It saddens me to say it, but I have DVDs in my library that look far superior. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Triad Trilogy Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are three Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks on this Blu-ray disc, one for each film. For the record, Palisades Tartan have provided optional yellow English and Spanish subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
The lossless tracks are fairly decent. On Election and Election II, in particular, the action scenes boast pleasing crispness. On Triad Underworld, however, balance is problematic - the dynamic progressions are uneven and the dialog occasionally seems too loud. Fortunately, I did not detect any high-frequency distortions or audio dropouts to report in this review. The English translation is good.
Triad Trilogy Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Unfortunately, there are no supplemental features to be found on this Blu-ray disc.
Triad Trilogy Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Releases such as this one can accomplish only one thing - they could damage reputations. I don't know how and why it was determined that Triad Trilogy could appear on Blu-ray as it did, but someone at Palisades Tartan clearly made a mistake. Naturally, my advice to you is to AVOID IT. On the other hand, if you are looking for decent releases of Johnny To's films, consider importing Hong Kong-based Panorama's Blu-rays, which we have reviewed here and here.
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