Infernal Affairs I has only just been released in the UK but already parts II and III were being screened at this year’s Berlinale. As epic in scale and ambition as The Godfather trilogy these films indicate a maturation of the Hong Kong film industry, that in this genre at least, sets it on a competitor level to Hollywood. A shame then that Part III is so utterly confusing, even if you have watched the other two parts. If you haven’t watched the other two, you’ll have no idea what’s going on!
But Part II is on a par with the wonderful original movie. Chronologically it actually precedes Part I and gives us the background to the setting up of the “double mole” scenario of that film, with younger actors Edison Chan and Shawn Yue playing the roles of Lau Kin-Ming and Chan Wing-Yan later fleshed out by mega-stars Andy Lau and Tony Leung respectively. It starts with a low-key conversation between Inspector Wong (who is killed towards the end of Part I) and gang boss, Sam, who at this stage is only a second-rank boss operating for the Ngai family. These two charismatic individuals agree that “Evil prevails. Only the good die young.”
The head of the Ngai family, Uncle Kwun, is gunned down by the younger version of Andy Lau’s character. The Ngai family’s hegemony is momentarily challenged by a gang of four second-rank gangster bosses (not including Sam) but they all get their nuts squeezed (not literally!) by Kwun’s quietly-spoken accountant son, Hau (coolly played by Francis Ng), who now heads the family. In scenes reminiscent of the American Godfather trilogy, there is a big get-together over a barbecue where Hau suggests to the second-rank dons that in fact he wants to emigrate to the States and so he’ll divide up the empire between them. Of course it’s just a smokescreen and they all get “whacked” eventually but somehow Sam manages to escape with the help of some Thai drug dealers.
The story gathers pace in an ever more engagingly complex and multi-layered fashion with nobody really knowing who’s on who’s side and numerous individuals meeting premature deaths as a result. The police and the gangsters all look impossibly cool or hard as nails. Immaculate sunglasses are almost de rigeur and the suits are never less than sharp. The personal, psychological dilemmas for the two “moles” and the jumps in time and place keep the plot racing along and there’s really never a dull moment. Eric Tsang as crafty gangster Sam and Anthony Wong as determined Inspector Wong are wonderful, recreating their memorable roles from the first film.
Part III is really a total disaster in comparison. It certainly doesn’t stand on its own two feet as a film and frankly seems partly to have been made up of some of the outtakes from the first movie. Chronologically it flits back and forth between six month’s before the first part and Chan Wing-Yan’s (Tony Leung) death therein and in the aftermath when a new character, the cold and enigmatic but decisive Yeung Kam-Wing played by the excellent Leon Lai seeks to find the mole (i.e. Andy Lau’s character, Lau Kin-Ming) within the police force, at the same time as Lau seeks to set him up as the mole.
It becomes excessively complicated with its over-emphasis on the individual psychologies of the principal characters and it becomes virtually impossible to work out who is attached to whom and one is left desperately trying to remember what happened in Part I. There are a few more love scenes for Tony Leung’s character (guaranteed to go down well with a female Cantonese audience) and a nod to the new mainland Chinese masters with a Mandarin- speaking top cop mastermind who seems to have been keeping an eye over everyone. But frankly it’s a total dog’s dinner, which should have been left in the can. Slow and verbose, it’s a pointless addition to two brilliant cops and robbers movies.