Sunday, December 18, 2005

Infernal Affairs II

2003, Hong Kong, Andrew Lau and Alan Mak

While Hong Kong films are best known for their gunplay, this one engages the brain, too, if only to keep track of the serpentine plot developments. A worthy prequel to the 2002 smash hit, the second part fills in much of the background, adding layers of intrigue as we navigate the years from 1991-1997 (and the impending handover to Chinese control). The film interweaves the experiences of Yan, a police mole in the triads, with those of Lau, a gang member who has infiltrated the police, and who has begun to work his way up the ladder. There are multiple cross-cutting plotlines and revelations, shedding new light on the events of the first film, although it can be quite a challenge to keep the various characters straight, particularly given the 'double mole' plot at the heart of the film. The young actors who play the youthful Yan and Lau do a fine job, although the real enjoyment comes from watching veterans like Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang, while several of the smaller roles, especially on the gangland side, are also well-played. While this sequel isn't quite as slick as its predecessor, co-directors Lau and Mak are absolutely at home with the mechanics of film tension, and ratchet things up to extremely enjoyable effect in several bravura sequences, with cross-cutting action as the various plot strands unfold in parallel; their camerawork is as polished and mobile as before. For a franchise film, there's also a surprisingly vivid sense of place, whether it be the homes of wealthy gangsters, or the back alleys of Hong Kong, filled with small restaurants and shops.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States