Infernal Affairs III

Reviewed by YTSL

As those who know me are wont to observe, it’s not that uncommon for me to feel compelled to watch a movie more than once.  Usually though, I reserve such treatment for efforts that I really liked the first time around.  In the case of the third and final part of the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy, however, my strong urge to re-view the film as soon as I exited the cinema in which it had screened came from that which was released in Malaysian as well as Hong Kong multiplexes on December 12th, 2003 -- i.e., exactly one year after the original and widely agreed to be the best “Infernal Affairs” effort -- having felt too (unnecessarily) confusing the first time around.

On a single viewing, INFERNAL AFFAIRS III can come across as Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s attempt to emulate “Ashes of Time” (in much the same way as “Infernal Affairs II” has been characterized as a “Godfather” wanna-be).  As much as I love that 1994 Wong Kar Wai work, this description is not meant to be taken as unadulterated -- or even qualified -- praise.  Instead, in making this comparison, the main point that I wish to put across is that this ambitiously conceived crime drama has got a deceptively difficult to follow story; in large part because of the tale’s possessing a non-linear, flashback strewn structure but also due to its additionally having a character who looks to have developed mental problems, and become schizophrenic, as a result of wanting so badly to be someone else (or, at the very least, to inhabit a role accorded to another).
Those who have viewed “Infernal Affairs I” (and if you haven’t, I’d strongly advise you to do so before viewing this follow up film) will know that Tony Leung Chiu Wai’s Chan Wing-Yan character wished nothing more than to cease masquerading as a Triad and get back to being a recognizably legit police officer -- i.e., the type who wouldn’t have to sneak a salute from the shadows when he wanted to show his respect for a superior, never mind feel a constant obligation to hide even the most trivial facts about himself from others, including the women he grew to have affections for.  And if it was not already apparent at the end of that movie, it will become obvious when viewing INFERNAL AFFAIRS III that Andy Lau’s Lau Kin-Ming character didn’t just hunger to be any police officer (rather than one of a conniving gangster boss’ Triad moles inside of the police force).  Instead, what he ended up wanting to be, above all else, was the admirably dedicated plus sacrificing Chan Wing-Yan; an individual who was his year’s leading police cadet at the time that he was selected to leave the academy to go so deep undercover that he was deemed to be at risk of losing his soul to the Triads (as well as his life in the blink of an eye).
In a chapter of the HKIFF’s “Hong Kong Panorama 2002-2003”, Alan Mak (who co-directed all three “Infernal Affairs” movie with Andrew Lau and co-scripted them with Felix Chong) divulged that “the original script [of “Infernal Affairs (I)”] focused on the character...played by Andy Lau.  There were many scenes of this character using every expedient to achieve what he wants” (2003:70).  With these remarks in mind, it might be said that INFERNAL AFFAIRS III is the section of this filmic trilogy that’s closest to the scriptwriters’ original vision.  This is because of it being so that, for all of its having more big name actors in it than the first effort, it’s especially evident upon a second viewing that the multi-part saga’s third plus closing “chapter” is primarily concerned with the increasingly internally tortured Lau Kin-Ming and his attempts to find a way out of his personal equivalent of “the Buddhist Avici hell, or the deepest inferno where suffering is longest and greatest” (See the HKIFF’s “Hong Kong Panorama 2002-2003”, 2003:66), and everlasting.
Whither the rest of INFERNAL AFFAIRS III’s stars and the characters they play in this movie then?  If truth be told, they are just there to be red herrings, comic relief and/or luminous support for the most part.  Because of who they are and what they’re capable of doing though, many of them do manage to make an impression plus contribution to the production (that additionally accorded significant roles to its art director (Bill Lui), costume designer (The idiosyncratically named Silver Cheung) and composer (The even more eccentrically monikered Comfort Chan) as well as cinematographers (Andrew Lau and Ng Man Ching)).  Indeed, Little Tony threatens to steal the show -- from Andy Lau in particular -- once again.  Also, one can do so much worse than give the likes of Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang and Chapman To one more chance to comfortably slip into their now familiar “Infernal Affairs” roles.
Additionally, even while they did not get as much screen time as they deserved, Leon Lai (who portrays Yeung Kam-Wing, a powerful Security Division Chief Inspector for much of INFERNAL AFFAIRS III) and Chen Daoming (as a mysterious Mainland Chinese man known to many as Shen) do manage to impress.  Furthermore, the inclusion of their characters successfully added extra layers and wrinkles to the increasingly complex saga.  Not so in the case of weak link Kelly Chen’s Dr. Li, who’s yet another implausible acting psychologist/psychiatrist to add to Hong Kong cinema’s growing list of such personnel.  Moreover, do not count on Carina Lau and Sammi Cheng -- prominently listed as guest stars in both the opening and end credits -- to have much time and opportunity to do more than make what really are mere throwaway plus needless cameo appearances in an offering that -- to my mind, at least -- proved to be interesting, thought-provoking and, ultimately plus generally, worthy.

My rating for the film: 7.5