When the original Infernal Affairs came out last December, it took the box office by storm, providing a welcome jolt for Hong Kong's moribund movie industry. The tight, tense cop thriller showcased two of Hong Kong's top actors as a pair of dueling moles: corrupt police inspector Ming (Andy Lau), informing for a criminal gang; and Yan (Tony Leung), an undercover cop who had infiltrated the same triads. Infernal Affairs raised the bar for what a Hong Kong film could be, and its commercial success guaranteed sequels—a slight problem given that most of the cast is killed off in the original. Instead, co-directors Alan Mak and Andrew Lau decided to go prequel for the first sequel (the third film will take place after the original), bringing on inexperienced actors/idols Edison Chen and Shawn Yue to play young versions of Ming and Yan, respectively. The co-directors also abandoned the rigidly structured cat-and-mouse formula that gave the original its paranoid charge, opting to create a sprawling crime epic of family, loyalty and betrayal. That's the kind of Godfather territory Hong Kong's run-of-the-mill triad flicks rarely tread. "We knew we had the chance to do something really different and great, so we took it," says director Lau. "But there's a lot of pressure because if the second one doesn't do well, forget about the third."
Like any good sequel, IA2 cranks up the violence and the gore by several notches, and the film's murky visuals are a deliberate counterpoint to the original's silver-skinned crispness. That makes sense—IA2 muddies the moral waters until no one, cop or triad, escapes without some implication in its cycle of violence and death. Who knew that a Hong Kong cop flick could offer such a subtle pleasure as moral complexity?