Underworld Politics

Triad Election, Naeun II

By happenstance, I waited more than a year to revisit the world of Johnnie To’s Election, finally sitting down to watch Election 2 (A.K.A. Triad Election) kind of on a lark. I was all geared up for Reign of Assassins while the world is in Yeoh mode, but then a flip switched in my head. I liked the first Election well enough, despite that its depiction of gangsters took me by surprise. They were always getting hit by cars or eating plates or never, ever firing a gun. I also struggled to keep up with the story, thrown immediately into the deep end with way too many characters all talking about many other characters. But by the end, it weirdly clicked. Oh, shit, that’s a hell of an ending. Now that I kind of understand, I’m wondering if the second and final Election movie will be clearer to start out. Nope! But what is clearer is that it’s phenomenal.

Election 2 is a super good gangster movie. It felt more coherent than the first, and I did manage to figure out the basic setup sooner. This next election is coming down to the incumbent, Simon Yam’s Lok, and the borderline legitimate businessman, Louis Koo’s Jimmy Lee. We know that Lok is a sociopath, revealed only at the end of the first movie, and so Jimmy has to match that brutality. What transpires is an arms race, as the two men eat away at each other’s forces and whatever other obstacles to their election. So unlike the torture scene in Election where people are rolling down a hill in crates and I didn’t understand why, every scene of violence here is happening at the behest of either man’s candidacy. This sets up moments of wild suspense, like early on at the restaurant when suddenly all the customers are staring at Jimmy, or that heart-stopping confrontation in the street with Jet, and wild brutality like bagging a guy and dropping him into the ocean, trapping two men in a single coffin, and the hands-down worst, preparing a guy to be fed to dogs.

Still, what strikes me about an Election is the creativity of the violence, and how unusual these instances are. I don’t believe there’s a single gunshot fired in Election 2, but there’s a lot of machete kills, a lot of foot chases through the streets of Hong Kong — gang war spilling uncomfortably into zones of the mundane. Last time, I compared this directly to Beat Takeshi’s Outrage trilogy, which is a similar sort of gangster movie by way of slasher, but I find the bloodshed of Election even more effective. It’s surprising and perverse, and most disturbingly, routine. The psychological aspect of the underworld was more apparent this time around, with the last conversation between Lok and Uncle Teng pinging especially. You just get this sense that a man like Lok can’t be reasoned with, because he’s the chairman now. They’ve created this system that promotes the worst, most cunning people, and then they expect some control over them.

I wish I were smart enough to dedicate more substantive writing to the Election series, and perhaps to Johnnie To as a whole, but I have a feeling he’s just one of those directors who’s beyond me. That’s okay — what I do pick up, I really like.

Deja vu, anyone? I sincerely hope you read that in the least douchey way possible. Yes, it seems that Naeun is “once again” departing Apink, though unlike a Hideo Kojima or Hayao Miyazaki, this is more procedural and less egotism. If we remember from the last time, generating news isn’t always a good thing. Here we have an article on Soompi: “Apink’s Son Naeun Announces She Is Leaving The Group + Chorong Shares Handwritten Letter To Fans.”

The agency stated, “Starting with their upcoming 11th anniversary fan song, which is scheduled to be released on April 19, Apink will be reorganized and continue promotions as a five-member group with Park Chorong, Yoon Bomi, Jung Eun Ji, Kim Namjoo, and Oh Hayoung. Son Naeun has ended her activities with the group, and they will be cheering each other on from their separate paths.”


The theory presented by the last round, when Naeun was quitting insofar as opting out of promotions, was that the frame of an article dictated its reaction. In this case, I’m only seeing comments deflecting blame away from both Naeun and her new agency YG (which I know is Blackpink’s agency, and is the crossover between Blinks and Pandas so unimaginable?). Of course, there’s nobody to blame here because an offense hasn’t been committed. As a top-rated user aptly puts it, “She’s an adult and almost 30. Will she be an idol forever???”

Not only does this article have a decent framing, it helps that it’s also packaging Chorong’s letter, which is why I really wanted to revisit this — it’s strange.

While Pandas’ hearts likely won’t feel better in this moment, I promise that we will show you that we are working harder. Please trust this once that our members are always worried about Pandas and have always prioritized Apink. Let’s cherish our past pretty memories and I hope we can make new happy memories together.


In all of her letter, six paragraphs’ worth, she never mentions Naeun by name. She never mentions anyone by name, but it would seem like a good opportunity to thank a colleague and wish her the best. I’m wondering if this is maybe a cultural thing? And by that I mean “Korean” culture, not “idol” culture. My paranoid brain is certain that Chorong’s letter went before redact-ready eyes prior to publication, speaking to the greater fear culture that is the idol industry, ever churning young people through the meat grinder for big profits and soft-power imperialism.

I’m no big fan of that kind of panic, and while I trust that the idol world is no worse than Hollywood, say, that’s hardly a consolation. An episode like this just reminds me of the hardest part — how little I know, just as I knew so little of the inner workings of Hollywood before 2017, with its open secrets and whisper networks. Will Naeun become persona nongrata like Jessica? Will Apink just pretend like she never existed? Because that’s a weird part of the industry that only serves to skewer any desired illusion that this is a sisterhood made up of real, thinking people. Why is the opposite illusion, that everything’s fine — look away — so much better? Why does Chorong, a good writer who’s written an otherwise fine letter, use this opportunity to maintain a nonexistent status quo instead of telling us how she really feels?

Am I asking too much of millionaire professionals who probably don’t give a shit about any of this? I don’t even know if that’s true. I’m always tempted to generalize about actors, for example, like when they do stupid shit, but not every actor is rich — even the ones you see or hear on TV.

So I reflect on Naeun’s departure, and it does make me sad, but it shouldn’t. There’s that investment of mine in the status quo. Her leaving functionally suggests that something was wrong, and I can’t bear that thought. In reality, she’s doing what’s best for her life and career, and that’s a calculus of endless choices I will never know. And then I look back at the five-member group, and now especially Eunji’s name stands out. Like, when you think about the narrative of artists going solo after groupwork, maybe you think about superstar Beyoncé, and how we pop-culturally make fun of those left behind. But if that’s the logic, why is Yoona still part of Girls’ Generation? Eunji is such a star, with maybe the best voice of her generation, and one of her first acting gigs was the lead in one of the most iconic dramas of all time.

My question then is: how do I reconcile both Naeun leaving and Eunji staying? For the sake of my brain chemistry, I think the answer is “don’t.” It’s a paradox, but Naeun leaving doesn’t render Apink lesser. I mean, of course it does, because Naeun is an invaluable talent. But that’s the magic of idol stuff, I guess.

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