The Weinstein Company, through their Dragon Dynasty sub-label, have seen fit to re-release their domestic DVD of Infernal Affairs along with the two follow up films just in time to coincide with the Region One DVD debut of Martin Scorcese's The Departed. For those not in the know, Scorcese's critically acclaimed film is a remake of these three pictures that came out of Hong Kong a few years ago. While it's a little odd that it took a Hollywood remake to get the two later films out on DVD here in North America, at least they're now readily available to be enjoyed by domestic audiences and if Scorcese's movie gets a few interested film buffs to check out the trilogy, so much the better as they really are excellent films.
NOTE: The Infernal Affairs disc in this boxed set is identical to the single disc release that came out through Miramax a couple of years ago. For those who already own this disc and don't want to repurchase it, the two follow up films are available separately outside of the boxed set as individual titles.
When the first movie begins, Chan Wing Yan (Tony Leung) and Lau Kin Ming (Andy Lau) are training to become police officers. Chan Wing Yan is kicked out of the academy so that he can be used as an undercover operative and before you know it, he's working as a mole inside a triad gang lead by Sam (Eric Tsang). The only person who knows Yan's identity is Supervisor Wong (Anthony Wong), the man in charge of taking down the triads. What Wong doesn't know, at least initially, is that the triads have a mole of their own working from within their ranks, and it's Ming.
When both the triads and the police figure out that someone in their group is feeding information to the other side, they race to find out who the guilty parties are before the other. Neither Wing nor Yan are aware of the other's positioning, although they'll both wind up trying to find one another to keep their respective employers happy.
On the surface, Infernal Affairs is simply a fantastic and insanely tense one-hundred minute cat and mouse game but if you dig just a little deeper you'll also realize just how well handled the subtle characterizations are. While it's true that a big portion of the movie's success depends on the tension that occurs while the two moles are at work and trying not to get caught, it's the little details that add up to make one big, crazy picture. While the movie starts very quickly, little details about Wing and Yan's lives are fed to us a little at a time so that when the big finale comes we actually feel for both characters enough for it to matter which is a testament to the directing skills of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak.
The film isn't perfect – there are a few moments that are too melodramatic (not unusual in Hong Kong cinema) and the score borders on the inappropriate in a couple of key scenes – but it is close enough. It's also worth noting that the scenes where Ming interacts with his fiancé and Yan talks mushy love stuff with his psychiatrist don't really do too much to further the plot of the movie (you could argue that they make the characters more human and that this show us a side of their life that takes place outside of work). Those expecting a bullet ballet style action film might not be too impressed with the way the movie pans out as it's not at all a shoot'em up nor is it a Naked Killer style exploitation film like the cover art for this disc implies. Instead it's as much a psychological thriller as it is a cops and robbers story and so much the better. The story and the pacing not only bring us into the world these characters inhabit but the interesting parallels that the scripts draws between the two leads adds a whole other layer to the story that is worth examining. The fact that these parallels are in turn reflected in the characters of Sam and Supervisor Wong does an interesting job of showing how similar these organizations, which work on completely opposite sides of the law, are in both the way they are structured and the way that they operate. It's also interesting to watch the two leads grow through the film. Neither of them are the same person at the end of the movie than they are at the beginning and again, it just makes the ending all the more poignant and dramatic. The cinematography is appropriately gritty and, when it needs to be, quite slick (watch the rooftop scene towards the end for proof of that) and the performances are uniformly strong across the board making sure that the characters are believable and interesting.
Infernal Affairs II:
When the first film hit box office gold, Andrew Lau and Alan Mak decided to revisit familiar ground though rather than make a sequel (which would have been tough) they opted to travel back in about ten years to show us what it was like for Yan and Ming in their younger days. The majority of the cast returns, Eric Tsang and Anthony Wong being the two heavy hitters, though this time the leads are played by Edison Chen and Shawn Yue, the two younger actors who played the characters in the flashback scenes from the first movie.
When this movie starts off the head of the Ngai triads is killed and his son, Hau (Francis Ng), moves in to replace him. Sam, the triad boss from the first movie, is obviously none too attached to Hau and wouldn't mind seeing he and his gang completely wiped out. Sam is also unusually friendly with Supervisor Wong, who also has a vested interest in seeing Hau's gang brought to their knees. While these two are carefully collaborating on how to make that happen, they're also sending in their respective moles, Wing and Yan, into one another's organizations.
If you enjoyed the Sam and Wong characters from the first film then it's entirely possible that you'll appreciate this prequel even more than the original movie as this time around, there's as much focus on these two and how they deal with the problem that Hau represents as there is on Wing and Yan. While this is a considerably more melodramatic movie than the one that was made just a year before it, it's still a strong entry in the mythology that the original created and Lau and Mak handle the material well even if it isn't quite as good as their first attempt. Again, the scenes involving the female characters don't work as well and while Edison Chen and Shawn Yue are definitely fine actors who do a very good job with their roles, they're not quite on the same level as Andy Lau or Tony Leung. The movie also introduces a few too many characters during its opening scenes, which makes the first part of the picture just a little bit confusing. Granted, by the time the ending comes around it's all been cleared up but this could potentially put off those with a short attention span.
Even with a few flaws, however, Infernal Affairs II is a good film. It's interesting how the filmmaker's contrast the changing of power in the Ngai gang to the handover of Hong Kong from the British to the Chinese. It's also interesting how the story fleshes out bits and pieces of various characters' back-stories, which are hinted at in the original movie. We know that Wong and Sam knew one another in the first movie but this time around we learn how and why they have the relationship that they do. We also learn how Tony Leung's character came to have the Triad connections that he's got in the first movie and that proves to be quite interesting. The problem is that if we've seen the first movie, we know where it's all heading and so it just isn't as suspenseful. It's still a very well made and well acted picture, but it's not quite on par with what came before it.
Infernal Affairs III:
The third and final film in the series does double duty, filling in the blanks between what happened between Infernal Affairs II and Infernal Affairs as well as telling us what happened after Infernal Affairs.
The film begins with Ming (once again played by Andy Lau) still working for the police. Unfortunately for him, his past has caught up with him and the girl he was to marry in the first movie has left him for greener pastures. Things aren't going so smoothly for him at work either, as since the police have fingered him for his involvement in the events that took place in Infernal Affairs he's essentially been demoted to a paper pusher, chained to his desk. Once things are smoothed over in that department, he is given back his position in the Internal Affairs department where he's given the unenviable task of taking care of whatever Triad moles might still be remaining in the ranks of the police force.
Ming eventually makes a few connections and finds out who the traitors are, taking justice into his own hands and making them pay for their crimes (and in a sense, for his own). From there, Inspector Yeung (Leon Lai) starts to pay closer attention to what Ming has been up to, though Ming suspects that Yeung might be a mole himself.
Infernal Affairs III is the weakest of the three movies but it's still definitely worth seeing just to find out how a few of the loose ends are tied up. Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang return again in a few flashback scenes as does Tony Leung but the bulk of this film is dedicated to Andy Lau's Ming and the consequences that he must face for his own actions. The reliance on a few flashback scenes hurts the movie in spots and complicates the picture's flow and it's almost as if the filmmakers felt that they needed to throw in a few unnecessary plot twists in an attempt to out do what they'd accomplished with the first two films in the series.
As a wrap up to the series, Infernal Affairs isn't as good as it should have been but as a follow up to Ming's story, it's still pretty decent. Lau's character is fleshed out further and his attempts to redeem himself and to keep doing the right thing journeys from well meaning to obsessive. Despite the tendency to jump around a fair bit it is quite well written and there's certainly enough of interest in the movie that it won't have any problems holding your attention. One can't help but feel that it should have all ended on a somewhat stronger note than it does when the end credits role, but it's still a satisfying experience and the trilogy, as a whole, is one of the finest crime dramas to come out of Hong Kong in quite some time.
Each of the three films in this set is presented in its original 2.35.1 widescreen aspect ratio, enhanced for anamorphic sets. The first film in the series simply recycles the single disc release that was made available a while ago and so the transfer here is identical to that release. All three films look pretty good on DVD, though there is a bit more grain than you might expect from what are some fairly recent movies. Aside from that, there isn't really any print damage to complain about and the color reproduction is strong across the board. The black levels, with a few minor exceptions here and there, are generally pretty solid and fine detail remains clear throughout each of the three movies. Though some mild edge enhancement is there if you want to look (there is quite a bit of it present on the transfer for the first movie which is the weakest of the three transfers in this set) for it there aren't any problems with mpeg compression and thankfully shimmering is kept to a minimum as well. These aren't reference quality transfers but all three movies do look quite nice in this boxed set.
Each of the three films in this set comes with the original Cantonese language track presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and an optional English language dubbed track presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Optional subtitles are provided across the board in both English and Spanish. Aside from a few spots here and there where the levels fluctuate a bit, the 5.1 tracks are nice and strong. The majority of the dialogue comes from the front of the surround set up with the rear channels used quite effectively to throw various sound effects and background noises at you. This builds atmosphere nicely and also really helps with the more action-intensive scenes in the trilogy. Bass response is tight and strong although there are a few scenes where it could have been just a bit stronger, and there are no problems with hiss or distortion. The vastly inferior English language tracks don't have the surround action that the Cantonese tracks do but they're of reasonably good quality so should you have an aversion to subtitles for whatever reason, you've got a decent stereo option to work with. Oddly enough, the English dub for the first film is noticeably different than the English subtitles which accompany the Chinese track.
Of course, the extras as they pertain to each of the three movies in this collection appear on their respective discs. Here's what you'll find and where you'll find it:
First up is a featurette entitled, appropriately enough, The Making Of Infernal Affairs (15:20) which is a fairly standard making of documentary that features some interesting interviews with various cast and crew members involved in the production. The interviews cover casting, acting, the script and the filmmaker's intent behind making the film in the first place. It isn't particularly comprehensive but it does provide a look at what the people who made this movie were going for.
This disc also contains a second featurette called Confidential File: A Behind The Scenes Look At Infernal Affairs (6:03) which is essentially just a few minutes worth of random behind the scenes footage presented here without any real context. What does make this bit worth while is that even without the context it does show us how a few key moments in the movie were set up and shot and for that reason it's worth checking out for the curious.
Rounding out the extras on this disc are an Alternate Ending (which this review won't spoil... let it suffice to say that the filmmaker's chose the right ending and that this alternate one simply isn't as appropriate), the film's international trailer and the film's original Chinese trailer. Animated menus and chapter stops for the feature are also provided.
Infernal Affairs II:
The most interesting extra feature for the second film is a feature length (and subtitled) commentary track courtesy of Siu Fai Mak, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Carina Lau, Chapman To and a few other people involved in the picture. It's a fairly active track with Siu Fai Mak having a little more to say about how the project was put together at Media Asia's request and how they wanted to explore the back story of the characters from the first movie. Most of the performers point out subtle nuances of their performances and explain some of their respective characters' motivations as well as what it was like to work with one another. Mak explains how they had the younger actors imitate the older ones from the first movie to try and keep the same feeling, and we also learn about how in Hong Kong there are always people with shady connections working I in the entertainment field. It's a pretty interesting track that covers the creative side as well as the more technical side and that contains input from people who worked on the picture both in front of and behind the camera.
Up next is the first of two featurettes, The Making of Infernal Affairs II (21:45). It's your standard behind the scenes segment that contains interviews with the cast members who explain how happy they were to work on the project interspersed with some behind the scenes footage. The second featurette, Confidential File (5:33) is simply a montage of more behind the scenes footage presented without narration or context. It's interesting in that it shows how some of the effects were handled, but some narration would have helped make more sense out of this material.
Rounding out the extra features is a selection of deleted scenes (seven in total – Memory Game, Happy Birthday, Highest Card Wins, Prison Fight Scene, Old Watch That Doesn't Work, Finding The Gun, and Recovery), a trailer gallery containing a teaser spot and a promotional trailer for the film as well as animated menus and chapter stops for the feature.
Infernal Affairs III:
The only notable supplement that the third film receives is a featurette entitled The Making of Infernal Affairs III (11:53). This segment follows the same formula as the 'making of' documentaries on the first two discs in that it splices in behind the scenes footage with some talking head interview segments to give us a rough idea of what it was like to work on the project.
Rounding out the extra features is a trailer gallery containing a teaser spot and two promotional trailers for the third film as well as animated menus and chapter stops for the feature.
While the sequels aren't quite as strong as the original film, all three movies in the Infernal Affairs Trilogy boxed set are definitely worth seeing. The audio and video presentation isn't perfect but it's definitely above average. The supplements could have been more plentiful and more insightful but that doesn't mean that this set will come any less than Highly recommended based on the strength of the movies alone.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.