Infernal Affairs II

Reviewed by YTSL

In his review of the first “Infernal Affairs”, Brian vouchsafed that Hong Kong cinema’s 2002 box office champion was “a film for grownups”; and not least because its “four main stars are all veteran actors that allow you to sit back and watch how real actors go about their work”.  Although Edison Chen and Shawn Yu were expected to take center stage in the Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu Wai -- as well as Sammi Cheng and Kelly Chan -- bereft movie that followed (but actually is a prequel rather than sequel; and, more specifically, one whose events take place between the years 1991 and 1997), this second Andrew Lau and Alan Mak co-directed crime drama turns out to be one more effort that’s largely carried by its older, experienced and, frankly, considerably more distinguished actors.

To be sure, Edison Chen and Shawn Yu do reprise their “Infernal Affairs” roles as, respectively, the younger, more hotheaded versions of the Triad mole among the police named Lau Kin Ming and the undercover cop asked to masquerade as a Triad who’s known as Yan.  Also, fans of Chapman To will be pleased to know that his “Infernal Affairs (I)” character does resurface in INFERNAL AFFAIRS II (and that some background information is given as to his relationship with Yan).  However, it’s the additionally returning Eric Tsang (as the mercurial Triad identified as Sam in the movie’s English subtitles) and Anthony Wong (as the “Wong Sir” who is more apt to keep cards up his sleeve than wear his heart on it) who are this ambitious feeling offering’s two top billed actors.
Something that more than one viewer of INFERNAL AFFAIRS II will come away feeling is that this production -- with the consistently overly bombastic musical score -- possesses the air of a wanna-be epic.  What with the sprawling effort’s cast including the more than able likes of Kara Hui Ying Hung (though only in a really minor “blink and you’ll miss her” role), Roy Cheung (as the not always loquacious -- for a good reason -- Law) and the unfortunately Cantonese dubbed Ho Jun (as a friend plus colleague of Officer Wong), this 2003 film’s makers looked to have gone all out to enlist quite a few big guns to further their cause; and this already prior to also factoring in the guest appearances by certain senior movie industry men who are better known for their behind-the-scenes work but still are recognizable to Hong Kong filmophiles (e.g., Henry Fong Ping, the elder Joe Cheung (as Kwan, the big Triad boss whose violent death sets off a multi-stranded series of events) plus veteran cinematographers Arthur Wong and Peter Ngor).
Despite his part not necessarily being the largest or flashiest of all those that are to be found in INFERNAL AFFAIRS II, Francis Ng easily stole the show as the deceptively mild mannered Triad boss named Hau who was not only the successor as well as son of the murdered Kwan but also the brother of police officer Yan.  As one might expect, some senior members of the police force are not too happy when the biological relationship between the vengeful Hau and Yan gets revealed.  However, certain more astute and/or daring others (notably Officer Wong) decide to look upon this as an opportunity for the promising cadet officer who they trusted to place his duties as a cop above that of a brother (and son) to infiltrate the Triad and net them some of the underworld’s biggest fish.
Around the same time, the apparently similarly malleable Ming’s life gets forever changed after he carries out a killing on the order of the first Mary that he loved (Not the author character played by Sammi Cheng in the original “Infernal Affairs” but, instead, the more mature personality essayed in INFERNAL AFFAIRS II by Carina Lau).  As it so happens, this far less scatty Mary also was the woman of the rotund, yet not entirely unattractive, Sam.  Since she appeared to be an influential figure in her own right, however, it would be unwise to assume that her man was aware of, never mind condones, all of Mary’s movements plus machinations; and this even when they were enacted with the purpose of benefiting the man she really did love above all others (and who loved her back just as deeply).
In discussing the original “Infernal Affairs”, Andrew Lau offered that: “The one dangerous factor, as far as the market was concerned, was that we didn’t have a female lead” (See the HKIFF’s “Hong Kong Panorama 2002-2003”, 2003:66).  To some extent, the inclusion of Carina Lau’s Mary character in the INFERNAL AFFAIRS II “gang” may be seen as a way of trying to ensure that this would not be the case with regards to the prequel.  Although this move may have satisfied some people, it’s actually not one that I am inclined to view all that favorably.  One reason for this is that Mary is a character who usefully defines others but is herself sadly underdeveloped.  Another is that the fate that befell her is one that is all too predictable, especially if it were to be considered to be so that this Andrew Lau produced movie is definitely much more of an Andrew Lau than Alan Mak work.

My rating for the film: 7.