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Johnnie To on top form
on 15 December 2006
The ever-reliable Johnnie To's Election 2: Harmony is a Virtue is in many ways more impressive and definitely more ambitious than its predecessor even though it lacks its relentless forward momentum. Where the first film was a literal relay race, this is more of a distance event, but it's a much more engrossing look at the nature and politics of corruption. It does amp up the violence from the first film, particularly in one literally grinding sequence, but it never deteriorates into a gore show, focussing less on Simon Yam's Triad chairman after a second term than reluctant contender Louis Koo, contrasting the one's troubled relationship with his son (who qualified for a lifetime in therapy at the end of the first film) with the other's hopes for his future offspring. It ends with the possibility of hope for one son but the certainty of damnation for another that hasn't even been born, the film bookended by scenes at the same location, the first full of sunlight and promise and confidence, the second dark and cloudy as one character finds that the price of respectability is the very violent life he wants to turn his back on. It's also surprisingly critical of the corruption in the Chinese government, implying that its collusion with Triad gangsters goes way beyond mere backhanders but is actually a deliberate part of government policy as a means of exerting social control in Hong Kong through close ties with organised crime - a particularly perverse irony considering the Triads' origins as political rebels exiled from the mainland who became corrupted by crime. Unsurprisingly, it seems to have been banned in Mainland China.
Although there is talk of a longer version existing because of three striking scenes in the film's trailers (including a Chinese execution, the open grave of the first film's last victim and a funeral), these scenes were cut by To prior to release.