Infernal Affairs III: part sequel to number 2, and part semi-prequel to the original movie. The layout of the story in this film is ridiculous: it leaps all over the entire ‘Infernal Affairs’ timeline like a demented flea – so much so that it’s a chore trying to keep track of what’s before, after and between the previous two movies. It also doesn’t help matters that 6 characters have been thrown back on the screen after being killed in the first two movies! It even feels like it’s been directed by someone else, which it hadn’t, but tells us that even the director couldn’t be arsed. The signature moments of flare and tension are replaced with lots of forced, over-egged dramatic moments that rely on swooshy sound effects and slow-mo camera movements to create drama out of nothing. It really feels like IA3 only exists because the first two movies were so successful; it’s clearly retrospectively written, rushed, ill-conceived and a tad cynical. it’s a bit of a crushingly disappointing way of capping off a brilliant first and decent second film.
Infernal Affairs II / 無間道II: a prequel to Infernal Affairs, further backgrounding how both the police and the triads got their mole into the other’s organisation. Having to live up to such a great film clearly daunted most of those involved in this; it lacks any of the tension and urgency that makes the original great, and it’s a more superficial story spread finely over a longer runtime. The second tripping point is that there’s too many (underdeveloped) characters, meaning that the story’s just not as focused or tight. Of the two hour runtime, it picks up around 60 minutes, then drops back again until the dynamite ending – the rest feels like forced melodrama for the most part. Fortunately, two big hitters really pull the film along; Anthony Wong has an effortless presence, and Eric Tsang is surprisingly emotive for a gangster character – the only downside is that they share the screen time with everyone else. There are a few political elements like the Hong Kong handover, but it’s not really significant to the story, and feels like they’re there for stylistic / filler / nostalgia purposes. Finally, being a prequel, it lacks the sting in knowing that almost everyone survives because their characters are central in the first film. Infernal Affairs II not a bad film by any stretch, and sits above the generic Asian HK cop/triad films, but it feels like a hollow movie, created solely to ride on the coattails of the first film.
Infernal Affairs / 無間道: the Hong Kong triads have inserted a loyal mole into the police force, who themselves have an undercover officer in the same gang – which cover will get blown first? As soon as it starts you can tell that this is simply great storytelling; it’s not dumbed down, there’s no filler and most interestingly, very little shooting/action for a cop-gangster film. The scenes where both sides are simultaneously involved are truly heart-pounding – even after seeing this and the re-make several times each. Maximising the espionage, tension and suspicion this grips you like an anaconda for the entirety, and doesn’t let go until the final scene. The police mole also throws up an interesting moral dilemma in the final third of the movie. None of the highly-watchable central actors put a foot wrong, with solid performances from the who’s who in Hong Kong cast – the only rubbish character is the ridiculous, annoying girlfriend that should have been written out. Until recently, you knew that a foreign film was decent when Hollywood re-made it – sure The Departed is brilliant, but is essentially this with a 60 minute longer runtime. Infernal Affairs is better than decent, it’s better than brilliant, it is the gold standard of police dramas. Absolute must-see.