Johnnie To’s Election II: Harmony is Virtue is one of those sequels that not only builds on its predecessor, but surpasses it. If the original Election was about the quest to gain power, then this film is about the problems that come with trying to evolve that power in the face of historical legacy.
The film starts off with a brief history lesson that provides insight into how Chinese immigrants to Hong Kong, in need of protection, formed the foundation of the Wo Shing Society, the oldest triad in the land. Election II does not delve deeply into this mythology opting to focus on the ramifications on the clan in the present. Picking up two years after Election, the fruitful term of chairman Lok (Simon Yam) is coming to an end and he looking for one of his five “grandsons” to replace him at the upcoming triad election.
The clear favourite is Jimmy (Louis Koo) who has no interest in taking the mantle. Jimmy is more concerned with becoming a legitimate businessman, and is trying to get a new highway and several buildings built. The last thing he wants is to have his triad affiliations jeopardize the future he envisions for himself. If The Godfather films, which To’s gangster saga shares a kinship with, have taught audiences anything it is that it is hard for a gangster to go legit.
Jimmy must learn this lesson when Xi (Yao Yung), a representative from the China Security Bureau, revokes his business visa and threatens to not reinstate it unless he wins the election. The news of Jimmy jumping in as a candidate comes as a shock to Lok, who has secretly been plotting to circumventing triad traditions by pushing for re-election.
Election II: Harmony is Virtue takes a much darker and more serious tone than its predecessor. The grittiness pays off in spades. The film not only captures the depths of Jimmy’s journey, take the masterful sequence at a dog kennel for example, but also conveys the damaging impact that legacy brings. This theme is effectively reinforced through the recurring imagery of the diverging paths those running and those in vehicles take when starting out on the same road.
While the parallels to other cinematic crime sagas are evident, this film has To’s trademark touches all over it. Juggling the various characters and the minimalist approach to action with confidence, the film crackles with tension and excitement. Election II: Harmony is Virtue is a pulsing gangster film that will satisfy both To fans and newcomers to his canon alike.
Friday, October 27, 9:30 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