Infernal Affairs II (2002) / Drama-Thriller
Mou gaan dou II

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but definitely R for strong violence and language
Running Time: 119 min.

Cast: Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Shawn Yue, Edison Chen, Francis Ng, Carina Lau, Chapman To
Director: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
Screenplay: Felix Chong, Alan Mak
Review published February 17, 2007

If you were someone, like myself, who thought that Infernal Affairs could have been one of the best action films of the new millennium if only it had some character development, you absolutely need to watch its sequel, Infernal Affairs II, as the entire film is almost nothing but. Reminiscent in many ways to The Godfather Part II (in design if not execution), this entry fleshes out all of the characters of the first film, telling us of their rise to prominence, setting everything up for the eventual unraveling that we witnessed already.  Taken apart, Infernal Affairs and Infernal Affairs II are good crime dramas that will please genre fans to no end.  Taken together, they are a modern masterwork of crime cinema, with each half complementing the other in a completely absorbing and ingenious fashion.  You can enjoy each film separately and never see the other, but once you've seen both, it's almost impossible to separate the two.

Back in 1991, a younger Ming (Chen, The Twins Effect) and Yan (Yue, Initial D) are recruited to work in a program for the criminal underworld, taught by Sam (Tsang, Partners), a high-ranking member of the Ngai triad.  The godfather of the family is killed, leaving his son Hau (Ng, 2000 AD) in charge, who is plotting to seek revenge of the Big Four, the other prominent heads of the triads in Hong Kong for the part they may have played in his father's murder.  Ming joins the police force as a mole working for Sam, while Yan, not being able to make it as a criminal, joins the cops in an undercover unit to become a mole in underworld crime.  both rise in the ranks quickly, but sinister happenings are afoot, and no one appears to be safe in the void left by the lack of leadership in the city's criminal operations, with everyone fighting to get a piece of the pie.

One thing you should know about Infernal Affairs II, other than it is a sequel, is that it is also a much different sort of film than the first one.  This entry is far more character driven, avoiding much of the intricate plotting and hardboiled action that were the main pleasures of its predecessor.  What this prequel serves is to fill in all of the necessary gaps in order to flesh out just who all of the characters are, why they do what they do, and why the police can be seen as not much different than any one of the other powerful triad families in trying to maintain control of the city by any means necessary.  The first entry was a cop thriller, but this sequel is a gangster crime opus through and through, traversing familiar but still effective waters in describing the rise and fall of many key figures in the overall story.

Edison Chen and Shawn Yue portray the younger Ming and Yan, just as they had done briefly in the first film, and while they are fine in their own way, this film really belongs to Hong Kong's veteran character actors Anthony Wong (The Medallion, Cat and Mouse), Eric Tsang, and Francis Ng.  With such strong players at the core, the resulting drama is gripping and builds momentum at a slow but steady pace, ending with a final conflict that should generate sufficient energy for those that have already seen the first film to re-watch it in an all-new, fleshed-out light. 

This is essentially how all sequels of successful films should be.  Rather than try to top the first film in terms of the action and thriller elements, directors Andrew Lau (Dance of a Dream, Sausalito) and Alan Mak (Initial D, A War Named Desire), along with screenwriter Felix Chong (Tokyo Raiders, Gen-X Cops 2), go entirely in a different direction, making an already good film even better by the sharp contrast in tone and substance.  Sure, it owes a great deal of gratitude to The Godfather epic, but why ignore a formula that works so well?  It's not necessary to watch this prequel to enjoy Infernal Affairs, but it does offer an enrichment factor that you'd be denied if you don't.

-- Followed by Infernal Affairs III

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo