Story: 1991: Kwun, a powerful triad boss is murdered by an unknown assassin. Thereupon, chaos breaks loose in the
Hong Kong underworld. However, the son of Kwun, Ngai Wing-Hau (Francis Ng), reacts immediately and takes the place
of his father. Thanks to his manipulative finesse he has no problems bringing the other four bosses under his
control. Another one of Ngai's devoted followers is fast-rising criminal Sam (Eric Tsang).
Meanwhile, police officer Yan (Shawn Yue) is going to be permanently suspended, since he is one of Kwun's sons and up until now kept it a secret. Yet, Officer Wong (Anthony Wong) gives him a second chance. If Yan manages to get together enough evidence as an undercover police officer in the organisation to put triad boss Ngai into prison for a lifetime, then he is allowed to keep his job.
At the same time Ming (Edison Chen) slowly starts to make a name for himself in the police force. Ming works for Sam and his manipulative wife Mary (Carina Lau) as a police officer, in order to be able to provide Sam with inside information in the future.
While Wong gets closer to Ngai every day, Ngai himself very skillfully gets rid of all of his rivals. Several year pass by until eventually the decisive encounter in this battle takes place...
Review: Hong Kong seems to follow Hollywood's numerous examples and without much time to waste shoots a
sequel to the very successful "Infernal Affairs". A big groaning did make the round when hearing about that, because
how can a sequel ever be as good as the first part? There are enough examples for screwed up sequels and in the end
there is also just one reason behind doing a sequel: To keep the money flowing into the producer's wallets...
Yet, luckily, putting aside the motives for this sequel, Andrew Lau and Alan Mak deliver a very good sequel, that can really stand on his own feet! Since, for apparent reasons concerning the story, "Infernal Affairs II" is actually a prequel, there is no need to have seen the first part to understand this one. Fans, however, will get the opportunity to dive even deeper into the character's backgrounds and their motives. Moreover, there are several "insider gags" that serve as a little extra for those who have seen the prequel... Well, actually sequel... whatever. Anyway, even though the second installment might go into a slightly different direction than what we did get to see in "Infernal Affairs", which by the way is quite welcome, the movie sticks with the dark and emotional style we learned to love.
Best described as an epic mafia-family-against-cops-and-other-rivals thriller the movie is stretched over several years. Beginning in 1991, then telling its story in 1995, we finally arrive at the year 1997 when Hong Kong is returned to China again, which was implemented into the film quite well. Despite some very crass time shifting the movie manages the seemingly impossible not to alienate the viewer, but to keep him interested and suck him up into the events on screen at any time.
Script writers Alan Mak and Felix Chong had to come up with quite a lot for the movie not to become a cheap copy of the first part and they actually succeeded. It was a wise decision to put Sam and Wong into the movie's spotlight this time. Ming and Yan still are important chess pieces in the game, but here they are just at the beginning of their journey. They are still unexperienced and their bosses without a doubt pull all the strings. Besides, it was also a good decision acting-wise. Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang just have the needed amount of experience and integrity to carry the movie on their shoulders. Shawn Yue as Yan and Edison Chen as Ming surely don't do a bad job, but you can see their lack of experience. Which, quite interestingly, even adds to the credibility of their characters.
New to the team is Carina Lau as the scheming wife of Sam and Francis Ng as triad leader Ngai. Especially latter is really believable as the son with his cold and calm nature who wants to follow his father's footsteps. Apart from that we also get to see some familiar faces again, e.g. Chapman To as Keung.
The story of the film is really good and again fully packed with clever ideas. It's really impressive how Hau manages to eliminate all of his opponents in just one night. Yet, the other characters also have to be mindful when playing their cards, and having an ace up one's sleeve is essential in this game if you want to survive. So, it's not really a surprise that "Infernal Affairs II" is full of twists and unexpected occurrences, even if they might not be as inventive as they were in the prequel. If you keep a close eye on the story you might get aware that there are quite some parallels to "The Godfather". That's a little bit sad, but nonetheless the film still has its own style and apparently didn't even want to deny the parallels to Coppola's "The Godfather". Just listen to the soundtrack and with a little bit of imagination you might even recognize the signature tune of "The Godfather"....
As we are already talking about the soundtrack: the score is even better than the one in the first part! Apart from the more action-orientated pieces, there are some very nice chorale ballads, which have been sung by a hungarian choir, infusing the film with an even greater epic style.
In other aspects the movie is technically top, too! The grim mood and the blue-green colours are again to be found and the typical freeze-ins and panorama-shots are also back again. The movie's tension is always high, however can't fully keep up with the tense level of the first part, mainly in the middle of the movie, and also because there is no danger this time that Ming's und Yan's identity might be uncovered. On the other hand, it's really nice to see that the movie is in no need for rehashing familiar themes, which would have been done by any other filmmaker for sure. Why shouldn't one stick to old and proven formulas? "Infernal Affairs II" doesn't take the easy way out and that's what's making it such a successful prequel in the end.
Naturally, we also get to know more about Ming and Yan. Ming's unrequited love for Sam's wife let's him do certain things, that make his charakter even more dark, and still he can't easily be called one of the "bad" guys. Because eventually it's the police work that seems to be his cup of tea, and not living as a gangster. Yan also does get a more "darker" touch to him, because of his kindredness with Hau. This also gives his wish to be a "righteous person" more substance.
In general, "Infernal Affairs II" takes the opportunity to deal with unanswered questions and to give the first part more background, while at the same time being a movie on his own. Some insider gags and hints to the first part round out the overall picture. Especially the relationship between Wong and Sam is great to watch unfold, even the more when you think of what bitter enemies they will become. Of all people it's Sam who becomes a pitiable and moving character, because his character gets more depth and we find out that he is not such a bad guy at all. It's just that several tragic strokes of fate led him on a way which made him the evil-doer we know from the first part. That's great, subtle emotional cinema, again!
There is nothing more to say, except that "Infernal Affairs II" is a worthy sequel/prequel and an outstanding thriller!