As sure as night follows day, when a film scores big at the Hong Kong box office, a sequel won’t be far behind. Infernal Affairs was one of 2002’s biggest hits in Hong Kong; unfortunately, of its four stars – Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang – only Lau makes it out alive, somewhat scuppering any sequel plans. One dead character and you can use the ‘long lost twin brother’ story (á la Chow Yun-Fat in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow 2), but three twins is pushing it somewhat. So directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak decided to go the prequel route for Infernal Affairs 2, exploring the events and relationships that led to the tense cat-and-mouse games of the first film.
Anthony Wong resumes his role as Inspector Wong, who has an alliance with on-the-rise gangster Sam (Eric Tsang). Sam works for Triad boss Ngai, but when Ngai is shot, his ambitious son Hau takes over the operation and starts wiping out his father’s former partners. Meanwhile, Wong has sent an undercover agent (Shawn Yue) into Hau’s organisation, unknowing that Sam already has an insider (Edison Chen) in the police force.
These moles – cop Yan and gangster Ming – were played in Infernal Affairs by Tony Leung and Andy Lau, and those dynamic stars gave the film an intense dramatic edge that the actors playing their younger counterparts here can’t hope to match. So Lau and Mak wisely shift the emphasis onto Wong and Sam, turning the film from tense, stripped-down thriller to something more operatic. Wong is far from the by-the-book cop he becomes – his alliance with Sam borders on friendship, even though he seems to be sleeping with his wife, and it was he who called the hit on Ngai. The lines between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are completely blurred – it turns out that Yan is Hau’s half-brother, who has disowned his family’s criminal ways to pursue the law. Wong sees him as the perfect candidate to infiltrate Hau’s operation, but his superiors are less sure, unconvinced that family loyalty won’t outweigh his dedication to the job. Meanwhile, Ming’s ascension through the police ranks is helped by Sam sacrificing lower-down gang members to boost his arrest record. And when Sam finds out that he is on Hau’s hit-list, he makes the decision to testify against his former boss.
Lau and Mak’s biggest influence is clearly the Godfather films. The murders of the mob boss’s partners are juxtaposed in exactly the same way they were at the end of Coppola’s first Mafia epic, there’s a family get-together akin to the Corleone wedding ceremony; even the music has a weird Italian/Chinese feel to it. But the characters aren’t given nearly the depth that Coppola gave his, and the film-makers aren’t particularly interested in exploring the inner-workings of a crime family. For all its grand scope, multiple sub-plots and variety of references to Hong Kong’s political situation as the island prepares for the handover to Chinese rule, Infernal Affairs 2 is only really concerned with surface thrills.
But as slick entertainment, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, superbly shot spectacle. Eric Tsang in particular gives a charismatic performance and provides the film’s one moving sequence as he mourns his wife’s death in the closing moments, while Anthony Wong is typically good as the cop more inclined to follow his heart than his head. The film is relatively light on action, but what there is is sudden and striking, and the numerous Triad/cop confrontations are tensely staged. Amazingly, Lau and Mak managed to deliver a third Infernal Affairs the same year... do these guys ever sleep?
Hong Kong director and cinematographer responsible for some of the biggest hits in recent HK cinema. Born Wai Keung Lau, he photographed classics such as City on Fire, Curry and Pepper and Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express. As a director, Lau brought a flashy, commercial style to films like Naked Killer 2, Modern Romance and To Live and Die in Tsimshatsui, all produced by the prolific Wong Jing.
Hong Kong director born Siu Fai Mak, who began directing in the late 90s with crime thrillers like Rave Fever and the intense drama Final Romance. Infernal Affairs, his film with the popular director Andrew Lau, was the biggest domestic hit of 2002.