When one thinks of elections images of debates, grand promises and slanderous television advertisements often come to mind. In the criminal underworld where the characters in Johnnie To’s Election reside, campaigning is taken to a whole other level. Bribery and promises of expanded territories are the tactics of choice.

If that does not work, you simply lock the voter in a wooden crate and repeatedly kick them down a hill until they come to their senses. At least that is what flamboyant and volatile Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai) does when his “gifts” of money are not enough to sway certain influential people.

One of two frontrunners for the chairman spot in the Wo Shing Society, the oldest triad in Hong Kong, winning means everything to Big D and his wife (Maggie Sui). Considering that elections are held every two years, and everyone from criminals to cops have a vested interest in the results, it is important for Big D to secure the support of both the “uncles”, the elders in the society, and his peers.

The problem is that Big D’s main opponent, the calculating and calm Lok (Simon Yam) has amassed a strong following as well. A man who believes in family, he has one son, and following a certain code, Lok’s ruthless desire for control is not prevalent on the surface. In fact, one cannot help but initially wonder if Lok has the stomach for the tough choices the position will ultimately demand.

An intriguing premise for a gangster film Election is a film that works best when watched in conjunction with its sequel Election II: Harmony is Virtue. The latter film provides more insight into some of the memorable supporting characters in this film, most notably Louis Koo’s Jimmy; and is a more accurate representation of To’s creative and energetic prowess. Furthermore, while Election works as a standalone film, at times it does comes off a little silly without the additional context.

This is especially true when the film focuses on some of the lengths that each side goes to acquirer the Dragon Baton, an ancient artifact that is ceremoniously that solidifies the new chairmen. In some parts, the search by the various parties come across more comical than it was intended to. As a result, it makes the disturbing ending feel at odds with those moments.

Again, Election works best when viewed as one epic saga with its superior sequel. On its own, it is an entertaining gangster film that serves as a solid entry in To’s robust cannon.

Friday, October 27, 6:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox

This film is part of TIFF Cinematheque’s Johnnie To: Expect the Unexpected series running from October 26th to December 28th