My expectations for Infernal Affairs 3 were not high. Infernal Affairs 2 had proved to be little more than a lazy attempt to ‘cash in’ on the (deserved) success of the first film by inexplicably substituting the original’s too-cool style for some bland direction and stupid story choices, and there seemed little reason to think IA 3 would be any different.
Well, at least this time Andrew Lau and Alan Mak have made something that can be described as a noble, rather than total, failure. More inventive than IA 2 in every respect, IA 3‘s narrative constantly shifts between the past and present to explore both the events leading up to Yan’s shooting in the first film and the consequences of Ming’s choices at that time. The temporally disjointed structure of IA 3 allows Tony Leung to return as undercover cop Yan, but more than just appear in flashback, Leung also gets to share some screen-time with Andy Lau (which is cool). Awkward as it may sound, this a reasonably well-executed concept that results in some of the best scenes in the film.
Lau gives an especially good performance as Ming, and although the character’s mental breakdown sometimes borders on cliche, the direction he goes in is still (largely) believable simply because it’s so unexpected (given the way Ming was established as such a slick guy in the first film). Unfortunately, most of the other attempts to have the story take a ‘different’ course are utter rubbish. Leon Lai is fine as the sinister Yeung, but the character makes so many inconsistent choices that the film’s own internal (infernal?) logic can’t actually support them all, and this is really indicative of IA 3 as a whole. Particularly distressing are those scenes that are intended to give new significance to certain moments in the original, but rather than serve this function, they mostly just highlight exactly how gratuitous any sequel to so perfectly a complete film as Infernal Affairs really is.
Infernal Affairs 3 isn’t bad as such, just average; a film that tries too hard to justify its existence and ends up a little confused.