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Infernal Affairs II
cast: Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Carina Lau, Francis Ng, and Edison Chen

director: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak

114 minutes (15) 2003
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Rob Marshall
Covering events in the years before the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, this prequel to Infernal Affairs is the middle instalment in a critically acclaimed, if somewhat overblown, trilogy of Asian crime dramas, inspired (too self-consciously, I think) by Hollywood's celebrated The Godfather movies.

Yan (Shawn Yue) is an undercover cop in the triads, while Ming (Edison Chen) is a gangster's mole in the police force. The youthful Yue and Chen are here playing earlier versions of the characters portrayed by Tony Leung and Andy Lau in the 2002 film. However, Infernal Affairs II (aka: Wu jian dao II) begins with a telling scene of 'polite' antagonism between Inspector Wong (the chameleonic, quite brilliant Anthony Wong, who's so good he could probably out-act the likes of Pacino and De Niro) and respectful gangster Sam (Eric Tsang). Their initial friendship must switch to vicious hatred (leading directly to bouts of explosive violence) in order to realise the original picture's storyline, and the frequently suspenseful scenario of betrayal and retribution enacted here delivers a plentiful share of thrilling plot twists and sombre tragedies.

Unlike the stylised actioners of John Woo or Ringo Lam (and their transatlantic imitators) this picture offers a range of character studies, engrossing interactions between emotionally unstable or psychologically damaged heroes, outright iconic villains, and others - sidekicks, stooges, henchmen, a matriarchal wife, and some hangers-on (for grim death!) who are struggling through a transition between the polarised moralities. The extraordinary technical standards and accomplished filmmaking techniques deployed are exemplary throughout, supporting the high-tension shootouts, a shocking car-bomb assassination, messy street battles, and provocative essays on fraudulent personalities. The film benefits, too, from the way its two directors have developed a mythos of seductively operatic grandeur.

Certainly, it's praiseworthy stuff and deserves the attention of anyone with an interest in contemporary cop-versus-crook movies, irrespective of its far eastern origins (with titular Buddhist references) and subtitled format. And yet I couldn't help but feel the final polish on this postmodernist, coffee table DVD (read that as 'pointlessly slipcased', as the box artwork merely duplicates the sleeve) is more akin to a cunning exercise in 'world cinema' marketing than a 'proper' slice of honestly Hong Kong cinema. It's as if the 'event movie' mores of Hollywood have now taken root in the former British colony and, for all the laudable production values on display here, that cannot be a positive trend.

The DVD special features include: deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurette, a Confidential File about the principal characters, plus a four-page 'booklet' of film notes by Miles Fielder.

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