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Infernal Affairs III
   |     review    |     notes     |     awards     |     availability     |     also see      |     

(top row) Chen Dao-Ming, Eric Tsang, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Anthony Wong and Kelly Chen.
(bottom row) Andy Lau and Leon Lai.

Chinese: 無間道 III 終極無間
Year: 2003
Director: Andrew Lau Wai-Keung, Alan Mak Siu-Fai
Producer: Andrew Lau Wai-Keung
Writer: Alan Mak Siu-Fai, Felix Chong Man-Keung
Action: Lee Tat-Chiu
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Leon Lai Ming, Chen Dao-Ming, Kelly Chen, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Carina Lau Ka-Ling, Chapman To Man-Chat, Berg Ng Ting-Yip, Wan Chi-Keung, Sammi Cheng Sau-Man, , Shawn Yue, Edison Chen, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Waise Lee Chi-Hung, Wan Yeung-Ming
The Skinny: The final chapter in the Infernal Affairs saga is predictably the weakest of the three, as it tries to do too much and starts to stretch itself reeaaaally thin. Still, the tension is compelling, the actors are largely excellent, and overall the filmmakers tried pretty darn hard to make IA3 a winner. They didn't entirely succeed, but their efforts are appreciated, and still worth watching.
by Kozo:

It all ends here! After the solid blockbuster Infernal Affairs, and the tense, meaty prequel Infernal Affairs II, all the principals of the first flicks regroup for Infernal Affairs III, a final blowout epic which promises to decide once and for all the fate of sneaky undercover triad guy Lau Kin-Ming (Andy Lau). His opposite, the sneaky undercover cop Chan Wing-Yan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), is not so lucky; his fate was decided in the first film when he took a bullet to the head from Billy (Gordon Lam), another sneaky undercover triad guy. Still, this is an Infernal Affairs movie. It can't just have one big star—it has to have ALL the big stars. Not only does Andy Lau return as the still sinister Ming, but IA writers Alan Mak and Felix Chong have devised a way for Tony Leung Chiu-Wau to continue haunting the streets of Hong Kong as Yan. Give them credit for being creative, as the filmmakers manage to craft a compelling and surprisingly not totally ridiculous crime thriller—and they do it with a record number of dead protagonists returning for more.

IA3 takes place in essentially two distinct time periods: the months leading up to the death of Yan, and nearly a year after his death. Here in the present time, Ming has just been cleared of any charges in Yan's death, a process that was more red tape than actual suspicion of guilt. Still, he hasn't been sitting on his hands. Apparently, when Ming offed Billy in the elevator at the end of IA1, Billy offered up some interesting news: some cassette tapes were delivered to Ming's boss, which supposedly contained conversations between bastard crimelord Sam (Eric Tsang) and his moles. The tapes were intercepted by one of the moles, but now months later the tapes have resurfaced in the possession of Security Inspector Yeung (Leon Lai). There were five moles, four of which are now dead of missing. Ming knows he's the last one, but how to make sure no one else finds out?

The path to Ming's goal (total separation from his secret triad life) seems a rather obvious one: finger someone else as the mole, a task which seems a lot easier since Yeung apparently had secret ties to Sam. Even more, Yeung has some sort of relationship with Shen (Chen Dao-Ming of Hero), a Mainland crimelord who had a deal going with Sam over a year earlier. That deal is at the center of Yan's tale, which unfolds during the time when he was still under Sam's wing. Yan is still trying to feed intel to Inspector Wong (Anthony Wong), but things are murkier than he would like. Sam is paranoid and unpredictable, and Yan frequently finds himself caught in Sam's tricky mind games. Adding to the intrigue is Yeung, who apparently was hip deep in Wong, Sam and Yan's dealings before the events of IA1. What is Yeung's deal? Was he in bed with Sam? Is he now in bed with Shen? Will Ming frame Yeung as a triad mole? Or will he simply expose that Yeung really IS a triad mole? And will Ming ever get his supposed heart's desire: to be a good guy?

The filmmakers have set up a virtual cornucopia of potential plotlines, doublecrosses and revelations for Infernal Affairs III, a feat which brings the film dangerously close to "confusing" territory. More asute cinematic readers will be able to follow the film's multiple storylines, which unfold with multiple flashbacks and flashforwards, some intriguing "dream" sequences, and more than a few misleading moments that are meant to indicate the deteriorating mental stability of one primary character. The filmmakers should be given a lot of credit for devising the film's complex storyline, which manages to take lots of dead characters and bring them back in surprisingly vital ways. However, for every three well-versed film watchers who can decipher IA3's byzantine storyline, there are probably seven popcorn-munchers who will find themselves totally baffled. This is not an easy-to-digest film, and even those who pay ultra-close attention may find themselves annoyed. Despite the creative narrative of the film, IA3 possesses more than a few massive plot holes which simply do not hold up on closer inspection. Going into them would veer dangerously close to spoiler territory, but basically it comes down to this: did ALL the events in IA3 really have to happen?

In all likelihood, the answer to that question is "no", though that's probably to be expected. The Infernal Affairs series is an incredibly polished trilogy of films, but when you take one film and attempt to stretch it into three, some marks are going to show. Plotwise, the film takes things to cinematic extremes that probably didn't have to exist, given all the evidence at hand. Further stretching matters is the casting, which possesses the IA hallmark of squeezing in as many big stars as possible AND getting them to appear together on more than one occasion. The fact that they can cram Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Gordon Lam, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Chen Dao-Ming, Leon Lai AND Chapman To into a single scene seems to be totally ridiculous, but the filmmakers go for it and do it anyway. They also manage to find a way to reunite Tony Leung and Andy Lau for a total of five scenes, some of which don't even take place in reality. If IA1 was all about the chase, and IA2 was all about the characters, then IA3 seems to be all about big star face time.

Not that that's a bad thing. In truth, the star-mania of Infernal Affairs III is one of the things that makes it enjoyable, if not too egregiously commercial. Andy Lau exudes sinister charm as Ming, who reaches his destiny in a way which may not please all fans, but is a fitting, haunting fate nonetheless. Leon Lai is all opaque charismatic cool as Yeung, and Chen Dao-Ming brings gravity to the integral role of Shen. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai gets to chew his own scenery, though not in the same way as the first film. Instead of the suffocating inner turmoil that we saw in IA1, we get suave ladykiller charm and goo-goo eyes aplenty. Kelly Chen reprises her role from the first film as Dr. Lee, Yan's appointed psychiatrist and the greatest-looking health practioner ever. Thanks to the magic of flashbacks, Lee and Yan get to flirt and make eyes at one another, even though their romance is doomed to "what if" territory. Their scenes are charming and funny, and will likely be uber-satisfying to the popstar chasers out there. Still, some will wonder: is all of this really appropriate or necessary?

Again, the answer to that question is probably "no". Infernal Affairs III is not tightly crafted like the first film, nor meaty and dramatic like the second. Instead, it seems to be a gargantuan commercial vehicle meant to give the masses want they want—and maybe a little of what they don't want, too. The masses want big stars, awesome production values and some cinematic tension. You got it. More demanding moviegoers might want intelligence, compelling plotlines and maybe a little fitting tragedy. Hey, you got it...or maybe sort of. IA3 tries to cram all of the above and more into a two hour marathon, and does a decent job of it. The filmmakers may not totally succeed at all the above, but they try pretty hard to.

IA3 could have been an easier film to make. A simple sequel detailing Ming's fate—and not including Wong, Yan, Sam and the other dead characters—would have been just fine, but the filmmakers did not go the easy route. Instead they tried to make something hugely epic, and the result is a film which nearly capsizes beneath weighty expectations and even weightier content. When you try to hit every mark possible, you're bound to miss a few, and they certainly do here. The big flashback to Lee and Yan? Probably not necessary. The continuing presence of Chapman To? Also not necessary. Manufactured scenes with Andy Lau and Tony Leung? Totally not necessary. But hey, who cares? This is big, big commercial stuff, and somewhat compelling and entertaining stuff, too. Infernal Affairs III will not be remembered for amazing filmmaking, but those seeking Hong Kong Cinema—and the big stars, iconic drama, and compelling twists it promises—should be okay. (Kozo 2004)

Notes: • DVD is marked for Region 3, but playable on Region 1 players.
• The DVD contains both the theatrical cut of the film and a director's cut, which restores some eleven minutes of footage back into the film.
• This review was written after viewings of both the theatrical and director's cuts of the film. It must be said: watch the director's cut! We mean it. It explains a hell of a lot more, and even though it doesn't alleviate the plotholes, it makes the film better.
• The initial pressing of the DVD seems to contain some sync-sound errors. At times the actors' mouths do not match their words, though the problem is not consistent throughout the film nor is it overbearing. It is not known if this will be corrected in future pressings.
Awards: 23rd Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
• Nomination - Best Picture
• Nomination - Best Screenplay (Alan Mak Siu-Fai,Felix Chong Man-Keung)
• Nomination - Best Cinematography (Andrew Lau Wai-Keung, Ng Man-Ching)
• Nomination - Best Editing (Danny Pang Fat, Pang Ching-Hei)
• Nomination - Best Original Score (Chan Kwong-Wing)
• Nomination - Best Sound Effects (Kinson Tsang King-Cheung)
• Nomination - Best Visual Effects (Wong Won-Yin, Wong Won-Tak)
10th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
• Recommended Film
41st Golden Horse Awards
• Winner - Best Actor (Andy Lau Tak-Wah)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC (Marked as Region 3)
Media Asia
2-Disc Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Trailers, Featurettes, Outtakes, Photo Gallery, Deleted Scenes
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
Also see: Infernal Affairs (2002)
Infernal Affairs II (2003)
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image courtesy of Media Asia Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen