Infernal Affairs II (US - DVD R1)
Gabe places this unnecessary prequel under arrest, but lets it go with a warning
Before the betrayal and undercover angst of Infernal Affairs comes Infernal Affairs II, the behind the scenes story of the rise of Boss Sam, and the moles Chan and Ming. In this tale Sam is a lower ranking Triad, but has already established Ming as a contact in the ranks of the police force. Inspector Wong, a friend of Sam's, has established his own mole in Sam's Ngai family in a young Detective Chan. The secrets and lies take their toll on the participants as the film moves towards its logical conclusion, the events of Infernal Affairs.
I've been outspoken in the past about my general dissatisfaction with Infernal Affairs. The truth is that I know it's a good movie, I just think it’s blindly over-praised. I never thought it was all that original (I prefer the undercover cop antics of John Woo's Hard Boiled), the steel-blue photography and dependence on slo-mo left me a bit cold. And I hate the title, might as well call it FBI: Federal Bureau of Infestation. Okay, so not liking the title is a little trite. The point is that I'm not a 'hater' per se; I just wasn't as gripped as everyone else.
I'm typing this mere minutes after watching Martin Scorsese's American remake The Departed take the Best Director and Best Picture Oscars® (and I notice quite a few people, Scorsese and the script writer excluded, didn't quite have the class to give the original film any credit come speech time). I liked The Departed more than Infernal Affairs, but had the fact that it was a remake in the back of head the whole time. I do prefer Scorsese's character's getting a bit more of a back-story than there HK counterparts, and I think others, even fans of the original would agree with me. I suppose that's why I'm reviewing a prequel to Infernal Affairs, confusingly titled Infernal Affairs II.
How many really good prequels are there? Godfather II is the only one I can think of that's actually equal to or an improvement on the original film. I honestly like the Star Wars prequels, but they don't rival the originals. Temple of Doom is a mess. Red Dragon is as dry as white bread toast. Dumb and Dumberer? Exorcist: The Beginning? Let's face it; prequels are almost exclusively money grabs.
I'm pretty sure this is a money grab, and that the folks involved weren't really all that artistically compelled to tell and entirely enthralling back-story. The final film isn't very discernable from all the rip-offs and cash-ins that bled from Asia in the wake of Infernal Affairs popularity, but is very well made, very well acted, and has more Anthony Wong than the original. I'm always for more Anthony Wong. Really Scorsese, would it have killed you to hire him as the Chinese Triad contact in The Departed?
The problem with the film, besides the fact that I'm practically drowning in sleek Asian cop thrillers lately, is that it paints itself into more than a few corners. As a stand-alone film, Infernal Affairs II doesn't work, mostly because we're expected to know most of the characters. Truth be told, I had some problems remembering the smaller plot points of the original film, but if this film is cannon I have a few problems. I can't really go into it without spoiling things, but Chan (the character played by Tony Leung in the original film, Leonardo DiCaprio in the remake, and Shawn Yue in this film) really should hate Inspector Wong (Anthony Wong) with every fibre of his being, and he really should've been taken out of his mole position. I don't remember a whole lot of atonement on Wong's part in the original film.
The rise of Triad boss Sam is more interesting than the back story of our two undercover leads, and his friendship with Inspector Wong is actually pretty touching, but I can't help feel that the last minute insurance that Wong will be seeking him out in the next film (or in this case, previous film) is kind of tacked on. It's as if the filmmakers were so anchored by the lesser plot elements of the original film, and thusly unable to go the places their new story should've taken them (this is a problem with the Star Wars prequels as well).
The biggest problem a prequel faces, and one I think this prequel suffers from, is the lack of suspense that comes out of already knowing where the story ends. We already know who's going to die and who's going to live, and unless we watch the films out of numerical order there aren’t any surprises to speak of, save the two painted corners I just mentioned. Sometimes this can be used to the filmmaker's advantage (I thought American Beauty handled it well), but here it's much more of a hindrance.
From an entirely trite and superficial standpoint, I don't understand why different actors were used in Andy Lau and Tony Leung's roles. It's not like the entire film takes place in that distant a past. I'm pretty sure that a little make-up would suffice. The replacement actors are good; don't get me wrong, it just strikes me as odd. Acting is solid all around, and is really the best reason to recommend the film.
Dragon Dynasty has a pretty good track record going for it right now in the video field, and the fact that this particular film is only four years old doesn't hurt. The muted colour pallet is well produced. Grain is minimal in most scenes, but like most movies ever put on digital versatile disc it suffers in low-lit scenes, and compression related noise is obvious throughout. The details aren't as sharp as I might've liked, but it's hard to tell whether this is due to the muted colour pallet (which has a lower overall contrast), or an error on the DVD producer's part.
Though not an overtly aggressive audio experience, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very spacious and subtle. The music is often overpowering, but this is in keeping with the film's melodramatic style. I actually quite enjoy the hipper-than-thou score, but more as stand alone music than a film score. Here everything is well represented, fidelity is accurate, bass is booming without bleeding, and dialogue is clear. You can also watch the film in dubbed English, but why would you want to?
I'm guessing that these special features have been culled from other DVD sources (a quick trip to the comparison site DVDBeaver.com says my hunch is justified), and with the exception of the audio commentary, are mostly of the advertising variety. The commentary track and deleted scenes are the only meat on these bones.
The commentary, in Cantonese with English subtitles is pretty dull, but has a lot of information for series fans. No one involved seems all that excited to be in the recording studio, but they get the job done. Listen to the track to be informed, not entertained. No, there is no Bey Logan on this commentary, despite the fact that he has a bit part in the film.
The deleted scenes are extraneous, in an already overlong film. I think my favourite features Chan playing basketball in prison. The scene is unnecessary, just as unnecessary as the prison scenes included in the film proper, but does build Chan's character as more likeable (and yes, I understand that these scenes represent Chan's acceptance of criminals as human beings thus making his later choices all the more difficult). The scenes are finished, but not anamorphic or presented in 5.1 sound.
The two making-of featurettes are EPK fluff, one featuring some very straight-faced people talking about how good the film is, and the other a brief amalgamation of behind-the-scenes rough footage. Anthony Wong gets a few more cool points for all but refusing to talk about the film, its plot specifically, and telling the audience to just pay to see it in theatres. The extras end with a series of trailers.
So then, I'm still not a fan, and though this is not a bad movie at all, probably even above average in even the most jaded company, I'm rating it as average. This is a solid DVD, but those with super-duper special edition imports may not want to bother. I'm aware that this series is very popular and has some very vehement fans, so I implore readers to explain to me what I'm missing either in e-mail form or as a comment below this review. Please, save the "IA ROCKZ AND U SUK!!11!" type comments, as I honestly want to hear well thought explanations. Perhaps I'm the victim of a cultural barrier or something. Anyway, I've got another one of these in the review pile, so now's the time to open my eyes.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 13th February 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Filmmaker/Cast Commentary, Deleted scenes, The Making of Infernal Affairs 2, Confidential File, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Wai Keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak
Cast: Edison Chen, Shawn Yue, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Francis Ng, Eric Tsang
Length: 119 minutes
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