Last month I wrote about watching the first Infernal Affairs for the first time. I marveled at the gritty realism and the complicated emotions present in such an energetic and tension filled movie. When I watched that movie I was literally breathless by the climax having been put through a whirlwind of plot twists and character development. I was a little nervous about revisiting this same world with this second installment. What if the first installment was just a fluke or a great combination? Then I would have to sit through an almost three-hour movie struggle to capture that magic of great acting combined with a great script and amazing cinematography. I was avoided watching it until Netflix intervened on my behalf and sent it to me in a physical guilt reminder (aka Netflix DVD envelopes). After staring at it on my end table for about a week, I finally gave into my guilt and watched it. I am sad to say that my instincts were mostly right.
The second Infernal Affairs is a prequel to the first one. We start out in 1991 with the Police Commissioner Wong and the Mob boss, Sam Hon, from the first movie talking over an amicable lunch. Wong proposes to Hon to take over the gangs and become the ultimate mob boss. Hon is at this point just a henchman, albeit a high up henchman, in a bloody and rash gang. Wong knows that having Hon at the center would be better than having the current iteration of it. Hon shrugs it off and leaves to visit his lady-love. What Hon doesn’t know is that Wong is planning an execution with one of Hon’s closest allies at the center of the plot. The ruling mob boss is killed and the gang universe is thrown into chaos. The mob boss’s son assumes power and enacts several devilish things behind a mask of utter coolness. This includes hunting out the conspirator that killed his father by killing everyone tangentially involved. He also brings the undercover cop we saw join the gang in the earlier movie closer to the action. Meanwhile the young gang member who infiltrated the police force is torn between his love for Hon’s wife and assuming an alternative identity as an upright citizen. Plots twist, people die, moles are found, and ultimately Hon assumes the throne as a the ruthless mob boss he becomes at the beginning of the first movie.
While the first movie uses the Police Commissioner and Mob boss as background figures that can be seen pulling the strings but not really sure what they are pulling at, this movie brings them up front to battle in the daylight. This is a good choice because these actors are the strongest parts of this film. The younger versions of the undercover cop and gang member of the first installment both seem wildly inexperienced in acting. They both mistake expressionless faces as a good indicator of inherent drama and seriousness. This is proven to be a bad strategy by the best performance in this movie, Sam Hon, played by Eric Tsang. He plays the fool within his mob universe with an originality that makes him actually very sinister when he is pushed into it. When he is forced into action by Wong’s actions against his gang he becomes an animated brute pushed to his wit’s end. But he is not given a strong foil. Part of the problem is with the script, but Wong is played as this jaded cop who isn’t really trying to save the world from crime but control it. It seems wrong to reconcile his severe loyalty in the first movie with this corrupt figure.While Wong tries his hardest to separate himself from the crimes he is committing, Hon is embracing his criminal activities with gusto. Hon’s story line is the infinitely more interesting one.
Infernal Affairs 2 lies within the shadow of the first Infernal Affairs. There is no way this movie could ever stand on its own or even usurp its more popular brother.