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Johnnie To’s Election (2005) has taken on a new resonance in the wake of the 2020 presidential election in the United States. Big D. (Tony Leung Ka-fai), like the former 45th president, leads a cult of personality that will stop at nothing to take leadership while his counterpart, Lok (Simon Yam) believes in the moral and ethical codes of his society and achieved leadership through the proper means. Of course comparing the election of a chairmen to a Triad organization to that of the United States is a bit hyperbolic, but not so much as it used to be.

Election may feature plenty of violent scenes but its primary focus is on the political maneuverings of the “uncles” and “brothers” within the Wo Sing society. Johnnie To treats Triad and police as symbiotic entities that compose what is essentially law and order in Hong Kong. The Triad’s know they need the police in order to make their money and insulate themselves just as the police depend on Triads to organize crime, minimize violence, and keep the money coming in.

The schism over the chairmen position creates a series of escalating repercussions which Johnnie To charts throughout the first two acts of the film. There’s a touch of Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) in how Johnny To grounds the violence in the minutia of the daily operations of a criminal empire. Crime is a business whose guidelines have been passed down for over a century within these Triad gangs.

The fact that Big D. is willing to disrupt this business and compromise on these traditions is exactly why he is such a threat to Triad culture itself. As corrupt and self-serving as Triad culture is, Johnnie To presents it as something approaching a collective. In this way a comparison between a Triad organization and a presidential race is perfectly reasonable, albeit disturbing.

The fact that Election is so relevant as a piece of political commentary is precisely why it was such a hit in the west and has spawned a sequel (with a third film in the works). Johnnie To excels at these types of criminal culture films and has made a reputation as one of the leading directors of crime films in the world. Election may not be his most virtuosic film visually, but the less-is-more approach works in collaboration with the minimal stylization and emphasis on narrative process.