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Film / Triad Election

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From left to right: Big Head, Jet, Lok, Jimmy, Mr. So & Kun

Election (黑社會; literally "Black Society") and Triad Election (黑社會2) are a duology of films that tells of the Wo Shing Society, based loosely on the Real Life Hong Kong triad "Wo Shing Wo", the oldest in the city that carries a long tradition. Directed by famed Hong Kong director Johnnie To, the films provide a contrast to the The Triads and the Tongs archetype in Hong Kong cinema that was previously predominated by the Young and Dangerous series.

In other words, internal betrayals within the society, threats of Civil War, gratuitous violence, ambitious sociopaths, ruthless lackeys and some of the most disturbing scenes ever shown in a Hong Kong triad movie.

Released in 2005, Election is headlined by Lok (Simon Yam) and Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai), two of the leading candidates for the position of chairman in Wo Shing. Every two years, an election is held by the "Uncles" to determine who is fit to lead the society. While Lok is the favored vote among the elders and ultimately wins the election, Big D believes otherwise, and systemically begins tearing down tradition by kidnapping some of the higher ups and physically punishing them for electing Lok. As conflict and tensions mount between Lok and Big D's allies, center to their struggle is the Dragon Head Baton, the symbol of leadership that determines the Wo Shing Chairman. Thus begins a game of cat-and-mouse, where Lok and Big D's men rush to seize it for their respective bosses.

The Sequel Triad Election was released in 2006. For the last two years, Lok has made Wo Shing prosper and the society is financially better than before. This time, the story centers on Lok's lieutenant Jimmy (Louis Koo), the society's biggest money-maker, who went from selling pirated pornography to becoming a legitimate businessman outside of the city in mainland China. When a deal in the mainland goes bad, China's National Security Bureau informs Jimmy he can longer do business beyond Hong Kong, unless Jimmy were to win the next bid for Chairman. However, Jimmy was never that ambitious, until Lok plans to break tradition by seeking re-election. Forced to become a candidate, Jimmy must win the Uncles' favor, while ensuring his own survival in the bid, with hopes that once he's elected and his two years as Chairman is up, he can finally go "clean".

Expect plenty of Deconstructions to tropes that triad movies usually play upon.

Not to be confused with the 1999 film Election.

Tropes associated with both films are:

  • Ambition Is Evil: Discussed thoroughly and one of the Central Themes of the duology - every nominee will do whatever it takes to be elected as Chairman, either through bribes or via intimidation; the Uncles have experienced this themselves when they became Chairman in the past, until they were forced to give it up after their mandatory two-year term. No amount of ambition from one person outweighs the rest, since Wo Shing's traditions are what kept the society running for so long. In Triad Election, Lok seeking to keep his seat is considered a bad ploy.
  • Anti-Villain: Played with Jimmy - he tells Uncle Teng in Triad Election he only joined Wo Shing in order to stop being bullied by them. While he's the most morally-centered character out of Lok and his "godsons", he'll get down and dirty with violence if it's a means to an end, such as butchering one of Lok's lieutenants and feeding his processed remains to dogs to threaten them into killing Lok.
  • Ax-Crazy: Big D is a raving psychopath willing to resort to extremely brutal methods in order to get his title, methods so violent that it shocks even the other seasoned gangsters. He also has a Hair-Trigger Temper, blows up at every little slight (either real or imaginary) and is willing to start a Mob War over what he perceives as an insult and a coup from the old bosses.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: Played with - Hong Kong police knows they're in a stalemate against every triad in the city. Even if they can get rid of the tens of thousands of members in the current societies, penitentiaries can't hold all of them; likewise, if one triad goes away, another will spring right up. Effectively, the only thing the police can really do to keep the peace is curb any violence between opposing societies or any societies amongst themselves, such as Wo Shing during elections.
  • Bilingual Bonus: In a particular scene for Triad Election, where Jimmy is ordering food at a high-class Chinese restaurant, he is humorously unable to pronounce or read the Mandarin words (Cantonese and Mandarin use the same characters, but they're pronounced differently and the two languages are mutually unintelligible). Since knowledge about the writing systems and a rudimentary understanding of either language is required for the gag to work, the humor is a little hard to get if viewers don't understand Chinese.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Triad Election ends with Jimmy successfully winning the election, but the Bureau forces him to change tradition by turning Wo Shing into a family enterprise to prevent the Dragon Head Baton from going into the mainland over and over again during every election (the Bureau claims it's been happening for countless elections, and they're getting sick of seeing it cross into the mainland). In other words, Jimmy must stay in the triads, unable to ever go "clean". Worse, if Jimmy is to go through with this, he knows the Uncles won't accept this, which implies he'll also be forced to seize total control of Wo Shing by eliminating them and any possible rivals off. In other words, bloodshed is inevitable, and Jimmy will be fully vilified for his actions. May also border on Twist Ending
  • Bolivian Army Ending: In regards to Jet, who Jimmy believes won't have a chance standing alone in the underworld, after he betrays Lok for not assassinating Jimmy in Triad Election. Despite telling Jet that he can help him, Jet is too proud to take up the offer and tosses away Jimmy's contact information, making it unclear whether he'll survive or not.
  • The Butcher: Jimmy in Triad Election, though not by choice, since he's trying to prove a point to Lok's captured lieutenants and forcing them to assassinate him.
  • Civil War: Narrowly Averted between Wo Shing as Big D reluctantly agrees to work with Lok after he claims victory by having all of Wo Shing in support of him.
  • Dramatic Pause: Done between Lok and Kun in the Sequel when the latter is against the former for re-bidding in the election, to which Lok unsuccessfully persuades him to exit the candidacy. It seems Kun might get physical on Lok, until a group of strangers pass by. At that point, Kun is convinced to work with Lok to stop Jimmy from winning.
  • Dual Wielding: Bo in Triad Election, as he heads into the funeral parlor to rescue Jimmy's financier Mr. Kwok with vegetable cleavers in both hands.
  • Enemy Mine: Lok and Kun in Triad Election against Jimmy, after he announces his bid when he said he wasn't going for it.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In the first film, a police investigator makes a quip about how Wo Shing isn't like another Hong Kong triad where leadership is passed down from father to son. Triad Election ends with Jimmy being forced by the government to turn Wo Shing into a family enterprise, eventually passing it down to his children.
    • At the climax of the first film, Uncle "Long Gun" tells Jimmy that if he's to survive in the triads, he needs to seize power and absolute control, climbing up to the top of the society's hierarchy if need be; otherwise, he should get out before he can't. By the end of Triad Election, Jimmy can never leave the triads, now that he's become Chairman and the Chinese government wants him to stay in the power to maintain control of Wo Shing.
  • Honor Before Reason: Big Head, allied with Lok, keeps reciting the society's laws as Kun, aligned with Big D, is beating him with a log to take the Dragon Head Baton from him.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: Sparky, after Big D's men kidnap him to force Lok's allies to hand over the Dragon Head Baton.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Lok, regarding why he had to order the death of Whistle's son, so that the last support for Big D in Wo Shing is fizzled out, giving Lok complete, unanimous and unchallenged control of Wo Shing as Chairman.
  • I Just Want to Be Badass: Deconstructed with Jet - he believes that being feared by everyone is what will get him noticed in the underworld, many of which includes performing assassinations on orders from Lok. Unfortunately, that seems to be the only thing he's good for (at least, in Lok's eyes). The fact it's implied he's been in hiding for so long in Triad Election because of all the hits he's doing for the Chairman makes it less likely for him to climb the ladder and be a legitimate candidate for Chairman, let alone a promotion. Lampshaded by one of the Uncles in the climax of Triad Election, who's never even heard of this foot soldier.
  • Literal-Minded: Jet, though this is played with in regards to I Just Want to Be Badass - when Big D tells him off for laughing when he shouldn't and that he should eat a ceramic spoon, Jet does exactly what he's told, in order to intimidate Big D.
  • Machete Mayhem: Once in both films - during Jet's rescue of Sparky for the first film and Bo as he fends off Kun and his lackies in a delivery truck after getting Mr. Kwok out of the funeral parlor.
  • Made of Iron: Jet, who can take multiple stab wounds and a machete embedded onto his left shoulder from Big D's men, while rescuing Sparky.
  • Not So Stoic: For the majority of Election, Lok is calm and composed, even when police arrest him following his win as Chairman, sending him to jail with Big D and other Wo Shing Uncles. At the climax of the film, after Big D suggests they share the Chairman position between them, Lok loses all sensibility and brutally smashes Big D's head in with a rock and strangles his wife with a log.
  • Professional Killer: Jimmy hires the hitman Bo as "insurance" for Triad Election when he makes his nomination for Chairman. Bo explicitly makes it clear he's Only in It for the Money.
  • Sinister Surveillance: The National Security Bureau, whose knowledge and reach (in fact, control over) regarding Hong Kong's triads frightens even Jimmy. May or may not be Truth in Television.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Big D is the boss of Tuen Mun, a very rural and small area of Hong Kong compared to the turf of the other bosses and yet talks like he is the biggest one of them all. He more than makes up for his lack of turf with his vicious acts and ferocious attitude however.
  • Speech Impediment: Mr. So frequently stutters and slurs his words, making him seem like less of a threat.
  • Start My Own: Since all of Wo Shing is against Big D for attempting to sabotage the vote for Chairman for himself and orders his men to steal the Dragon Head Baton when he doesn't win, Big D announces he'll create the "New Wo Shing Society". This sets off the sparks for Civil War.
  • True Companions: Downplayed - when Lok's bid for Chairman is sealed, he thanks Big Head, Jet, Jimmy, Mr. So and Kun for their hard work, promising to look after each of them as their "godfather" and vice versa. Once his two years are over, he'll support whomever is planning to become a candidate for chairman. In Triad Election, Lok wishes to seek re-election and hopes to convince his godsons not to seek their bid. When Kun asks if Lok will sincerely support his bid, Big Head and Jet give the Chairman a Death Glare, while waiting for his response.
  • Villain Protagonist: For all accounts, Lok in the first movie; this is cemented when he murders Big D and his wife at the end of the film. Zigzagged with Jimmy in Triad Election, who starts as an Anti-Villain, but the implications behind the Bittersweet Ending suggests otherwise.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After Lok is killed, neither Big Head or Mr. So are mentioned or seen again, assuming they either sided with Jimmy as the new Chairman or killed on his orders to prevent any rivals from seizing power or ousting him to the Uncles that he orchestrated the hit on Lok.