Infernal Affairs 2, as the second act of the trilogy, starts the race with a handicap. Second acts are traditionally more down beat and less popular they either the first or third acts. Also, it follows up the enormously popular first part of the series, starring two of Hong Kong’s most popular A list actors. Nonetheless, it’s still a good film in its own right.
This is partly because the cast includes some seriously good dramatic actors, such as Francis Ng, Eric Tsang, and Carina Lau. The young stars, playing the parts played by Andy Lau and Tony Leung in the original, carry their roles well enough. In particular, Edison Chen makes a meal of his character as Ming, the triad mole in the police force, and doesn’t disgrace himself when in the company of respected professionals Eric Tsang and Carina Lau. Shaun Yu, faced with the truly daunting task of acting opposite dramatic legends Francis Ng and Anthony Wong, doesn’t do so well, but at least he manages.
By staging the film as a prequel, the film-makers also neatly sides step the problem that a sequel is nearly always disappointing. Instead of trying to outdo the first film, this one takes a detour into the past, to show what makes a good boy turn bad. And young Edison does indeed turn bad, giving him a chance to show off his acting chops. Conversely, Shaun spends most of the film looking confused or tortured, but perhaps that’s just because, compared to the scintillating brilliance of Wong and Ng, any performance would suffer. If it were me, I’d be running screaming from the set.
Some people feel that this is three films in one. There’s the story of Ming, and how he becomes a dangerous weapon liable to turn in the hands of his wielder. There’s a story of Sean, and how he remains steadfast in the face of adversity. Then there’s the story of Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang, and how they reached the point of animosity with which they begin the first film. With all these stories, some feel that the film is just too busy. But I found it quite intriguing, given it’s limitations.
Some high points: Francis Ng’s subtle and understated performance; Carina Lau hauling back and slapping Edison Chen a good crack across the face; Anthony Wong in almost any scene, because he’s just such a delight.
I can’t say it stands up in comparison to the first one. But then, for completeness, you have to watch it any way, right? So why not relax, try to forget the first film, and just enjoy it.