Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review – Infernal Affairs III

March 9, 2011

Infernal Affairs III – Hong Kong, 2003

Making a sequel to a film that is intended to fill in the gaps that existed in a previous film is risky for two reasons. First, there is an advantage to leaving some things to the imagination of the viewers. It creates mystery and the possibility for there to be multiple interpretations of what went on after the screen faded to black. Second, what fills in a gap may leave viewers greatly underwhelmed, and such feelings have the potential to lessen someone’s appreciation of an earlier film, even one as good as the first Infernal Affairs. Unfortunately, the final installment of the Infernal Affairs series may do just that for some viewers.

Infernal Affairs III is part prequel, part sequel. It takes us back to the time of the first film and adds an additional adventure to the story of Inspector Lau Kin Ming (Andy Lau) and undercover cop Chan Wing Yan (Tony Leung), this one involving Sam’s potential partnership with a weapons dealer from Mainland China. The part of the film that is a sequel explores the fate of Lau months after Yan’s death. I expected this part to be about a man struggling with his place in the world and trying to come to terms with his actions in the first film, and to the film’s credit, there’s some of this in the film. However, I did not expect there to also be a subplot that seems more appropriate for an Alfred Hitchcock film than a serious police drama. Surprises can be a welcome at times, especially if done well. This is not one of those times, however, and to be honest, it’s not done all that well either.

The film introduces a new character to the Infernal Affairs universe, SP Yeung Kang Wing (Leon Lai). In flashbacks, we learn that he was suspected of working with Sam. After Yan’s death, SP Yeung is suspected of something much more sinister, the murder all of the other moles that Sam had in the police department. Therefore, it stands to reason that Lau must stop him before Yeung comes after him. So essentially what we have in the film is a potentially corrupt cop trying to off a cop who the audience already knows is corrupt. There’s not much reason to care for either one of them under such a scenario.

In the flashback part of the film, we witness Yan trying to ingratiate himself into Sam’s gang, and his efforts are hardly what you would call rewarded, which again makes one wonder just why Sam trusted Yan so much in the original film. We watch as Yan relays information about Sam, Yeung, and a mysterious man from Mainland China known as Shen (Daoming Chen) to SP Wong, and what he witnesses seems to indicate that Sam is now trying to expand his empire past Hong Kong’s borders with China. This story is interrupted often by events that followed Yan’s death. Most of them involve Lau, Yeung, and Dr. Lee. There’s a lot going on in both stories, and the film would have benefitted from a bit more focus.

Internal Affairs III, despite reuniting the main cast from the first film, is one of those sequels that simply wasn’t necessary, at least not in its present form. A film that focused exclusively on Lau’s fate could certainly have been made, and I’m sure it would have been interesting. Infernal Affairs III is just not that film. Many of the flashbacks are unnecessary, and what happens to Lau turns out not to be all that interesting or plausible. In addition, the film’s major revelation towards the end makes you wonder just why Yan would have met with Lau alone at the end of the first film given that he had someone else on the inside other than SP Wong who knew who he really was.

I’ll mention one last thing about Infernal Affairs III that should have been cut from the film: the flashbacks involving Yan and his court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Lee Sum Yee (Kelly Chen). The mystery of their relationship was one of the best parts of the first film, and viewers had to be paying close attention to what these two characters said to each other to fully understand the extent of their relationship. What we see in Infernal Affairs III suggests that directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak simply didn’t have confidence in their audience. Therefore, they filmed all of the details that an intelligent viewer already knew had happened. There’s an additional reason why these scene should have been left on the cutting room floor. Dr. Lee looks completely uncomfortable during the scene, and therefore, the passion that should have been evident to viewers is practically non-existent.

Having said all this, I will reaffirm my esteem for the original Infernal Affairs. It remains a tight, compelling film, and I cannot recommend it more highly. The film two sequels have not yet dampened my appreciation for it. However, my advice to future viewers would be to be finished with the series after the first one. Sad, but true. (on DVD and Blu-ray)

2 and a half stars

*Infernal Affairs III is in Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles.

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