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Infernal Affairs II (2003)

Wu jian dao 2, Mo gan doh II

The Birth Of A Legend (Yi Ge Chuan Qi De Dan Shen)

Directed by:

Alan Mak

Andrew Lau

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 119 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: China, Hong Kong, Singapore

Most films have only one director, but like its predecessor Infernal Affairs, ‘Infernal Affairs 2’ is so full of double-agents, double-dealing, double-crosses and parallel storylines that it needs twice the usual number of directors just to keep the helm steady – and once again Alan Mak and Andrew Lau have created a dizzyingly taut, darkly ambiguous thriller set in a cops-and-robbers underworld where everyone is either morally compromised, or dead, or both.

While the trademarks of the first film – convoluted plotting, rich character-based drama, buddhist concerns with destiny and karma, and even gratuitous discussions of stereo equipment – are all present and accounted for in ‘Infernal Affairs 2’, what the new film has to add is its status as a prequel, and the prevailing sense of doom that this status brings. In the opening scene, in 1991, Police Inspector Wong (Anthony Wong) and jovial gangleader Sam (Eric Tsang) shoot the breeze over a Chinese takeaway like old friends. “Who knows where we will end up”, wonders Sam – but anyone who has seen the first film knows that the next time they meet over a Chinese takeaway meal, it will be as implacable enemies in a police interrogation room in 2002 – and that shortly thereafter, both will die violently.

‘Infernal Affairs 2’ traces the crises which set these and other familiar characters on their fateful course, beginning, like Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer and Agitator, with the murder of a gangland kingpin and its immediate – and not so immediate – aftermath, as criminals and police alike realign themselves in the ensuing struggle for control over Hong Kong’s streets. The dead gangster’s son Hau (Francis Ng), for all his softly spoken words and respectable appearance, turns out to be a ruthless successor to the triad empire, with a long-term plan to avenge his father and then shift the family into a more legitimate branch of political influence. Meanwhile young Ming (Edison Chen), who has an unhealthy obsession with Sam’s wife Mary (Carina Lau), is ordered to join the police as Sam’s mole, and conversely Wong assigns Yan (Shawn Yue), a young police cadet who also happens to be Hau’s half-brother, to infiltrate Hau’s syndicate as an undercover operative. In the complicated tragedy of fate and retribution that emerges, the past proves impossible to bury, the present impossible to escape, and the future looks set to play out its hand from a deck that is already heavily loaded.

‘Infernal Affairs 2’ sets itself explicitly in the period leading up to Hong Kong’s 1997 shift from British to Chinese control (and its final scenes coincide with the actual handover), thus drawing a suggestive parallel between the fates of the Hong Kong people, and the fates of the principal characters, trapped in an endlessly repeating moral hell which no passage of time ever relieves or changes, as successive ‘bosses’ perpetuate the corrupt exercise of power inherited from their predecessors. In consequence, as well as being an engrossing crime drama, ‘Internal Affairs 2’ also works undercover as a bold political allegory, mirroring the double dealings and mixed allegiances of its main players. Hollywood is already remaking Infernal Affairs (with Brad Pitt) – but I doubt that it could remake a sequel as complex and gripping as this.

It's Got: All the nuanced characters of a good drama, all the twists and turns of a tense thriller, all the doom-laden inevitability of a bleak tragedy - and a concern with power and succession that makes it also a pessimistic political allegory.

It Needs: Close (but well-rewarded) attention if you want to follow all the nuances of its double-dealing characters and plot.

Alternatives:

Agitator, Beast Cops, Graveyard of Honour, Infernal Affairs

Summary

If Infernal Affairs was The Godfather of Hong Kong double-crossing drama, then this is a sequel as satisfying as The Godfather Part 2

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