Infernal Affairs II
THE STORY

Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong) is sitting in a gloomy room in his police station, lecturing a triad member, who’s hungrily eating away at the lush meal provided by the cop.

“Evil prevails. Only good die young,” he says. Sam looks up, food still hanging from his mouth, and smiles.

The year is 1991. Years before the events that would lead both men to their destiny. Before Sam (Eric Tsang) became a vicious triad boss. Before the trouble with the undercover operatives.

When the current triad boss Kwun is killed the criminal underworld is thrown into upheaval, and the scene is set for a brutal showdown. All-out gang war is moments away. But the war never comes. Even as the so-called “Big Four” are planning to oppose the future leader of the Ngai family, an unlikely player makes his entrance.

The clean-cut Hau (Francis Ng), the son of Kwun, takes charge of the Ngai family business. He may look like a lawyer, but he hides a mean streak deep beneath his well-manicured exterior. Hau applies careful pressure on each member of “The Big Four”, and soon everybody is back in line.

Meanwhile the young police cadet Yan (Shawn Yu) is in trouble. Not yet out of training, he has already managed to draw the attention of his superiors, after beating up a gang member. He also happens to be Hau’s brother, and when this connection is revealed his days as police officer seem to be numbered.

But then Superintendent Wong presents him with an offer he can’t refuse: He can stay on the force if he agrees to go undercover, and use his family connection to get close to Hau.

Yan is thrown into a cell with the triad member Keung (Chapman To), and the two of them form a bond. Soon he is on the way to join the triads.

1995. Another young police cadet Lau (Edison Chen) is patiently advancing in the policeforce with great success. His real assignment is equally successful. In reality he’s a triad member, infiltrating the police force on behalf of Sam. Concurrently Mary (Carina Lau), Sam’s ever-present wife, pulls the strings and watches over Lau and her husband.

Hau plans to move out of Hong Kong, before the region returns to China. He plans to set up a coke deal with a new Thai connection, and he wants Sam to head up this operation... or so he says. But in reality Hau plans to kill “The Big Four”, and Sam too.

As Yan fortifies his his position in the triads, and Lau gets closer still to becoming an Inspector, Hau sets his plan in motion...

THE FILM

The “Infernal Affairs” trilogy reminds me of “The Godfather” trilogy. The first one was unique. The second one, a perfect masterpiece. And the third was simply unnecessary. I consider “Godfather II” one of the ten best films ever made, and ”Infernal Affairs II”, is almost as good.

It caught me completely off guard. Wasn’t this supposed to be a cheap attempt to cash in on the original? A useless rehash not worthy of my time? I guess not, because ”Infernal Affairs II” turns out to be the best of the trilogy.

From the very first frame I had the feeling that this was going to be a winner. I had chills down my spine when the camera panned over to reveal a young Sam to be the person Wong addresses in his opening monologue. In this simple scene the film sets up the entire premise. “Infernal Affairs II” is a study in falling from grace.

And that brings us to the one big problem “Infernal Affairs II” has to overcome: It takes place before the original film, so we know exactly where it’s going to end up.

The film solves this problem by focusing partly on new characters, and partly on what makes the characters we know change into the people they eventually become. This works very well. No, strike that, it works PERFECTLY! It’s a testimony to the film’s quality that - even though I knew exactly who will live and who’ll die - I still couldn’t help being afraid when somebody threatens one of the leads.

“Infernal Affairs II” suffers momentarily from a lack of direction. Even though we know where the film will end up, it stills needs to have a clear goal, an obvious path (it doesn’t need to stay on this path, mind you, it just needs to have one), but the film does have some dense plotting to overcome, so I can easily forgive if it stumbles every now and then.

ACTORS

Francis Ng is a strange creature. His ability to overplay knows no bounds, and yet every now and then he still manages to deliver a calm carefully weighed performance. His turn as Hau is never anything less than believable. “Infernal Affairs II” presents Ng at his soft-spoken best.

As the young version of Yan, Shawn Yu leaves a lot to be desired, but he does have some big shoes to fill. Matching Tony Leung’s best performance in years is no small task. Unsurprisingly he fails. He’s less than effective, though never actually bad. I’m slightly baffled by the choice of actor. Yu doesn’t even look like Tony Leung. Surely there must be other young Hong Kong actors who could have done it better.

Edison Chen as the young version of Lau is much more successful, but this a perhaps also due to the writing. Initially he doesn’t have much to do, but when he ends up protecting Sam’s wife, the two of them share some touching scenes. A great showcase for Chen.

Meanwhile Eric Tsang gets to portray Sam’s fall from grace. What an incredible performance! My respect goes out to this strange little man who always makes me laugh, and yet is still capable of delivering a complex and convincing dramatic performance.

Anthony Wong is not very prominently featured in “Infernal Affairs II”, but when he’s on, he shines, especially in the scene where he’s faced with the death of a close friend. A very touching moment.

“Infernal Affairs” belonged to Tony Leung and Andy Lau, but even though they don’t appear in this prequel there’s so much talent on display here that they are not missed.

TECH STUFF

My single complaint about “Infernal Affairs” was that it seemed a bit confined. But whatever restrains the filmmakers put on themselves in the original, they are sure as hell gone now! “Infernal Affairs II” feels like a true epic. The locations and the sets are much more impressive, and the characters are more well-rounded.

The film also features the best sequence in the trilogy, when Hau executes his plan to kill “The Big Four”. It clearly draws its inspiration from the baptism sequence in “The Godfather”, but it still manages to be completely original. I literally lost my breath during this scene. IT SO BEAUTIFULL! The editing. The music. The rhythm. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. Not since I was introduced to Asian cinema in the beginning of the 90’s, and almost soiled myself watching Chow Yun Fat obliterate the tea house in “Hard-Boiled”, not since then have I been so impressed with a sequence.

This is quite simply as good as it gets. Period.

But the film is filled with such beautifully crafted scenes, and once again the music becomes an all-important device in creating the mood.

WRAP-UP

As the final moments of “Infernal Affairs II” play out against the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong, a feeling of melancholy sets in. This is the end of an era. Not just for the Hong Kong, but for the triads, as well as our characters. They will never be the same. In the end “Infernal Affairs II” is surprisingly poetic, and quite sad.

This is nothing less than a pitch-perfect sequel. It improves and expands on the original in ways you could only dream about.

Know this, all you Hollywood producers, trying to cash in on our desire to revisit characters we love: Never underestimate your audience. We’ll never forgive you. Treat us with respect and we’ll hold you up as Gods.

The first step on your way to becoming a deity: Watch “Infernal Affairs II”. Watch and learn.
David Bjerre
June 2,
2004
GALLERY



Original Title
Miu Gaan Diy II
Country
Hong Kong
Year
2003
Director
Andrew Lau
-
Young & Dangerous series (1996-98)
- Man Callaed Hero (1999)
- Avenging Fist (2001)
Alan Mak
-
A War Named Desire (2000)
- Final Romance (2001)
Cast
Edison Chen
- Gen Y-Cops (2000)
- Princess D (2002)
- Twins Effect (2003)
Shawn Yu
- Just One Look (2002)
- New Option (2002)
Anthony Wong
-
Hard-Boiled (1992)
- Beast Cops (1998)
- The Mission (1999)
Eric Tsang
-
Hitman (1998)
- Metade Fumaca (1999)
- Accidental Spy (2001)
DVD Availability
Available on DVD from YesAsia: