Infernal Affairs 2 Review
Despite what Tartan and their misleading advertising posters might want you to think, Infernal Affairs 2 is not an action movie. Instead, the second in the trilogy, and prequel to one of the most exciting films to come out of Hong Kong in recent years, is a brooding crime thriller-cum-character study.
Although the prequel may have lost the star power of the first film, Eric Tsang and Anthony Wong rise to the occasion, with a plot that now focuses on their characters (Triad boss Sam and Police Officer Wong) rather than the moles Yan and Ming. The two actors might not have had enough screen-time to shine with their supporting roles in the first film, but that’s certainly not the case here.
There are essentially four different stories going on during the film, interweaving with each other at regular intervals. Firstly, there are the efforts of Sam as he tries to establish his motley gang of Triads as a dominant force; Officer Wong and his struggle to maintain order in the area amidst shootouts between rival gangs; the journey of Yan (Shawn Yue) who enlists as an undercover cop in Sam’s gang after being initially dismissed by the police for being the brother of a criminal; and last but not least, the gradual rise of Ming (Edison Chen) as a Triad mole in the police force. Unfortunately, whilst Shawn Yue almost manages to pull off the subtlety that Tony Leung played Yan with, Edison Chen can’t manage to repeat Andy Lau’s multi-layered performance, and comes off as irritatingly angst-ridden.
As if this wasn’t enough, there is a superb supporting cast that includes Francis Ng (robbed of the Best Supporting Actor award at the recent Hong Kong Film Awards...) with a terrifically intense portrayal of Hau, a ruthless criminal boss and older brother to Yan. Another interesting supporting character, is that of Mary, Sam’s wife, played by Carina Lau, who forms an intriguing relationship with Ming; initially taking him under her wing, their relationship soon develops into a much more edgy situation. Also worth mentioning is that Bey Logan, yes, him, pops up briefly playing a police inspector in one scene.
Every single character is interesting and multi-dimensional, one of the many strengths of the first film that has been carried through to the prequel and even improved. Sam, who came off as a rather generic villain in the original, is shown to be just as human as the other characters. He Is just trying to succeed in a harsh world, and is clearly the most harmless of the criminal bosses shown in the film. He takes care of those in his gang, and his relationship with Officer Wong is a truly touching friendship – something you might not have expected after seeing their previous encounters. However, throughout the film we see a transformation of his character, as he steps up to make important decisions in certain circumstances, and thus the film hints at his change into the character we know and hate from Infernal Affairs. Still, regardless of your feelings towards his character in the first film, its hard not to empathise with him here, and that’s a great achievement by the writers.
They have paid just as much attention to the other characters, all of whom are multi-dimensional and unique. Even Francis Ng’s character Hau, effectively a merciless criminal, is shown to be human, caring for his family as much as any protagonist might, which is refreshing in a genre where the villains are so often stereotypical and formulaic.
Understandably, people have drawn parallels between this, and the second part of a certain other famous trilogy. Like The Godfather Part II, it expands on the first film, and the characters in it. In fact, in one scene the directors even pay distinct homage to the scene from The Godfather with the assassination of the heads of the five families.
As I’ve mentioned, the acting for the most part is excellent. The absence of Leung and Lau is hardly noticeable with Tsang, Wong, and Ng all playing their parts to perfection. Although Christopher Doyle wasn’t on hand to help with this one, the cinematography is still first-rate. Captivating and dark, it fits the themes of the movie perfectly, as well as enhancing the sense of claustrophobia, paranoia, et al. Like the cinematography, the score also compliments the film flawlessly. From the haunting choruses and strings of the theme tune, to the stirring percussion during action scenes, and delicate guitar during some of the more moving scenes, composer Kwong Wing Chan has added another level to the film.
However, the plot is at times confusing, and it seems like the directors have tried to pack as much into this film as possible. Some of the sub-plots are given less attention than others, possibly due to time restrictions, and suffer as a result. Also, if you haven’t seen the first film, then some of this film might be a little hard to understand. That’s not to say it’s impossible – my friend saw this without seeing the original, and still enjoyed it greatly. It just takes a little more attention and concentration in the beginning than it will if you’ve already seen the first film of the trilogy.
As a film on its own, Infernal Affairs 2 is excellent. When paired with the first Infernal Affairs, it’s even better. We see how characters were originally, and their development here hints at how they turn out in the original film. Just as this compliments the first film, so the first film compliments the prequel. For example viewers can really sympathise with Officer Wong, especially towards the end, and it’s particularly moving when we know what happens to him in Infernal Affairs. It also answers several questions from the original, such as how Sam and Wong know each other and why they fell out, and how Yan and Ming started out before they assumed their undercover roles.
My personal favourite instalment of the trilogy, Infernal Affairs 2 is a lot more than a simple cash-in to the success of the first. Epic in scope, and more complex than the first, mesmerising and tense throughout, it is a very different experience from the original, but ultimately just as good.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 12:15:32