Tuesday, February 21, 2006

the infernal affairs trilogy

In the early 1990’s I watched a lot of Hong Kong gangster films on laser disc. Standouts were John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, The Killer and Hard-Boiled, all starring Chow Yun-Fat. These films were stylish and action-packed, featuring bloody shootouts and lots of fights. But, much like the films John Woo would later make for Hollywood, the plots were never compelling.

The 2002 and 2003 Infernal Affairs trilogy continues the police verses triad theme so prevalent in Hong Kong cinema but with a style all its own. There are no martial scenes, no slow motion effects and no epic gun battles. Instead we are treated to complex storylines and fantastic acting.

The first Infernal Affairs tells the story of Ming (Andy Lau), a policeman secretly working for triad boss Sam (Eric Tsang), and Yan (Tony Leung), a member Sam’s gang who is really an undercover detective reporting to Inspector Wong (Anthony Wong). Both Sam and Inspector Wong suspect that their organizations have been infiltrated and make it their top priorities to expose the moles.

The movie abounds in extreme suspense, wonderful performances and phenomenal cinematography. Not surprisingly it garnered Best Actor, Director and Picture awards at both the Hong Kong Film and Golden Horse ceremonies, and it commanded top dollar for US option rights. The Hollywood version directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen is said to be completing production.

Infernal Affairs II is a prequel, set 6 years earlier as Hong Kong prepares for handover. We learn what makes a young Yan (Shawn Yue) want to join the police force, and we see how a young Ming (Edison Chen) moves from triad to the Academy to a raising star in the Hong Kong police. Francis Ng provides a standout performance as Hau, and we learn much more about Sam and Inspector Wong as well.

Though not quite as good as the original, Infernal Affairs II is still marvelous and somewhat reminiscent of my favorite film: The Godfather Part II. It lacks the intricacies of the Godfather, the power of a performance like Al Pacino’s, and the strength of a character like Kay (Diane Keaton), but its plot is compelling and very well integrated with the first movie.

Tonight I completed the trilogy by watching Infernal Affairs III. In the finale, Any Lau and Tony Leung return to reprise their roles, and the action is set in the months before and after the conclusion of the first film. Time shifts frequently, adding some confusion to a story simpler than in the first two. However, the results are above the norm for trilogy conclusions. And, it is much better than the Matrix III, Return of the Jedi or the abomination that was the Godfather Part III. Andy Lau won a Golden Horse award for this film.

Rent the first two movies: they are excellent. And if you want more, rent the third as well, but don’t have extremely high expectations.


At 8:01 PM, Blogger Emmanuel said...

Honestly these are also my favorite Hong-Kong movies. I saw all 3 and I agree the time shifting of the 3rd one is slightly confusing (although this is offset by watching Kelly Chen :-). While I generally do not like to see movies a second time, these were exceptions and I also enjoyed a second viewing.
When I checked about a year ago believe that a Hollywood remake was in the work, I doubt that it will match the quality of the first Infernal Affairs!

At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Julie J. said...

We thought the storyline was intricate and fascinating. Someone woke me up at 3am, saying in his sleep, "I really want to see _The Departed_," which is the American remake of Infernal
Affairs, with Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiC. We're waiting for the 3rd one to be available on Netflix.


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