After all the initial excitement of HKTV’s launch, it’s time to dust off the hype and actually view it for what it is. Does The Election live up to the hype? If you read the comments on JayneStars (which I tend to avoid most of the time), the reactions are mixed. On the one side, you have the HKTV supporters who are enjoying the more unconventional (for a HK drama) storylines and the production values, on the other side you have the die hard TVB fans/Ricky Wong haters. Since Jaynestars is a website targeted at the overseas audience, I’m assuming we all grew up with lots of choices in terms of what we can see when we turn on the TV. However, in Hong Kong this is not the case. I really cannot see why HKTV can’t exist to give people a choice. I understand that not everyone likes the political theme of The Election or a police drama like The Borderline, but then making the conclusion that ‘HKTV sucks’ is just way too premature. So just chill because HKTV does have more light hearted dramas in the pipeline?
OK that was my rant – back to THE STORY of The Election…
Each episode starts off with a little introduction / background of the events unfolding. In episode 1, we begin during the 2017 Chief Executive elections, where independent candidate Wai Man Hin is about to win a closely contested race. 2017 is the first year the public is allowed to vote for their Chief Executive. However, the candidates are chosen by a ‘selection committee’. (For more details about Hong Kong’s election process, miriamfanz wrote an informative article about this.) Prior to joining his wife to wait for the election results, Wai Man Hin meets with his team, whose identity had to remain hidden from the public. The speech to his staff summaries what he stood for:
However, just as the announcement is made that Wai Man Hin won the election, we see the scene of a car accident. Unfortunately, he did not live to celebrate his victory. Was it foul play? We don’t know yet…
Five years later, Wai Man Hin’s wife Yip Ching (Angelica Lee) is leading an non-political organisation fighting for workers’ rights. Just like her husband, she believes in justice and equality for the everyday people. In HK, that means making enemies of powerful large corporations which is not exactly the path to a political career. However, Yip Ching said she’s not interested in becoming a politician… but of course, some people (or is it one person?) has other ideas.
It’s not really a spoiler that by the end of episode 1, Yip Ching decides to join the race to become Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. A decision to continue her husband’s work, while also investigating the truth behind his death. However, to even get her name on the ballot paper, she has to earn at least 600 votes from the selection committee. A group of people including political parties, professionals, business people… each with their own interests quite different to Yip Ching’s ideals.
After episode 1, I was hesitant The Election will turn into scenes of just mysterious men in a dark room talking and talking… doesn’t seem too exciting right? But by episode 4, I’m hooked. I love how episodes 2 to 4 all focused on a theme, a hurdle that Yip Ching and her team have to jump through in order to reach their goal. First, it was to raise enough funds for the campaign, then the ongoing struggle to earn votes from the nomination committee, and then the power of the media – portrayed as an almost amoral entity which can twist and distort the facts depending on which side it supports. As the clock counts down to the election, Yip Ching also has to compromise, make deals which might seem questionable to her noble cause. You really start to wonder – does the end always justify the means? Did her husband also have to compromise his integrity in order to win?
It’s no secret that from the poster, Yip Ching’s opponent is Sung Man San (Liu Kai Chi), leader of one of the pro-Beijing political parties and President of the Legislative Council. However, at the beginning of the series, Sung Man San was assisting Luk Wai To (Savio Tsang) in his candidacy. Although Luk Wai To seems completely incompetent for leadership, he is the Chinese-preferred candidate because of his family connections. On the outside, it appears Sung Man San is using all of his resources to help Luk Wai To. However, you don’t have to dig that deep to see Sung has his own ambitions – and he is willing to do anything to achieve his goal.
Although Sung Man San is clearly ‘the bad guy’, the most interesting aspect of The Election is the contrast between what Sung does to gain power, and what Yip Ching is faced with in order to achieve her vision of a democratic future. Where do you draw the line? There have been suggestions The Election is ‘propaganda’ for the pro-democracy camp but that just shows those critics haven’t actually seen it. If anything, it shows the dark world that is politics and noone is immune. Alliances can be formed in the most unlikely of places.
The person who seem to be able to switch sides as the situation calls for is Cheung Kwai Lung (Gregory Wong) – who helped Wai Man Hin with his campaign, then assisted Luk Wai To… and currently the campaign manager for Yip Ching. Even though Yip Ching’s name might end up on the ballot paper, it was Cheung Kwai Lung who orchestrated (and manipulated) Yip Ching in order for her to enter the race. He is willing to do the ‘dirty work’ – negotiate deals with wealthy businessmen, secretly work with Sung to take down Luk etc… Ultimately, I think he is on Yip Ching’s side (and I *think* there’s a hint of romance between them – at least Cheung Kwai Lung has feelings for Yip Ching…?) but I’m ok if The Election doesn’t have any romantic elements at all. At the moment, if anything does happen between them it will seem weird.
That doesn’t mean I can’t fangirl Gregory Wong at least a little – he posted a photo of himself at the democracy protests last week which earned him praises from the netizens. (Of course, there will be criticisms as well.) Cheung Kwai Lung is my favourite character right now and I can’t wait to see how the story develops.
Overall, I’m loving The Election but two things come to mind – the first one is definitely the lighting. I must say though, it is so refreshing to see real locations being used in a Hong Kong drama. It’s like as a TVB viewer (quite occasional these days), we’ve been trained to accept the fake looking offices with windows that look out to nowhere, or homes where they’re all furnished in a similar way. Here I am thinking – wow, that office has a harbour view! You know – like a real office! However, the lighting is so dark in some scenes I can hardly see the actors’ expressions. I wondered whether it was a HKTV-wide thing, but no such issues for their other drama which just finished airing – The Borderline. Apparently, the director deliberately did this to create a ‘darker’ theme. To be honest, I don’t really think it’s necessary.
[All of the below screencaps are unedited.]
The (kinda) second, and I feel a bit nitpicky is Angelica Lee’s accent. I know she is Malaysian hence her Cantonese is not perfect but it is distracting at times. Otherwise though, casting her has been a real bonus for this drama and definitely brings something new to the table. The acting from her and especially Liu Kai Chi, I cannot fault.
It is clear HKTV is looking to emulate the US format as they have announced there will be a second season of The Election. Putting aside the alleged (I say alleged because I can’t compare) similarities to House of Cards, I know I prefer Asian dramas these days because I know what I’m in for, whether it’s 15, 30 or 70 episodes. Bringing in the season format just muddles the waters a bit, but I hope HKTV doesn’t cancel its series mid-season like its American counterparts tend to do.