Infernal Affairs II was a fine sequel (or rather, prequel) to the original movie, but the box office results showed that what really elevated the franchise was its two star names in the leading roles “ Tony Leung and Andy Lau. Box office returns dipped in their absence, which was almost certainly at least part of the reason why they were both brought back for the third instalment.
However, this creates its own problems as Tony Leung’s character, Yan, was killed at the end of the first film. Infernal Affairs III tries to resolve this issue by setting the film both in the aftermath of the events of IA1, mixed in with flashbacks to events which took place prior the first film, but after the second film (i.e. at a time in which Yan is alive and can be played by Tony Leung rather than Shaun Yue). Got that so far? Me neither.
In the present day, Inspector Lau (Andy Lau) has been cleared of any wrongdoing over Yan’s death and is back at work. However, there’s a rumour going round that Lau was not the only mole in the police department, in fact there were a few and they now seem to be being picked off as someone tries to tie up loose ends. Lau suspects Inspector Yeung (Leon Lai) and sets about trying to bring him down “ not only in the interests of his own safety, but also in an attempt to become a real policeman and a better man. However, nobody seems to have noticed that Lau is working 24 hours a day and clearly having some sort of mental breakdown.
Inspector Yeung has brushed with Yan and Lau in the past, and this is where the flashbacks come in, as the story of how they tangled previously is revealed, building up to a climax at which both stories connect up.
Unfortunately, it’s fairly clear that certain of Infernal Affairs III’s scenes have been engineered in order to get the movie’s big stars together and these feel rather shoehorned in at times. Added to this is that the jumps in chronology combined with the attempts to convey Lau’s fractured mental state mean it is sometimes hard to tell when a scene is taking place, and even if it is actually taking place or simply a figment of Lau’s imagination. Unfortunately, unlike IA2, Infernal Affairs III doesn’t feel like the film has been made because there were more stories to tell about these interesting characters, but because there was more to be milked from a successful franchise. It’s also, as maybe becoming clear, much too complicated and convoluted.
Despite these significant complaints, there are still things to enjoy about Infernal Affairs III. The main stars are backed up by good performances from the likes of Leon Lai and Kelly Chen, and once everything comes together in the final third, the finale is as tense and exciting as we’ve come to expect from the Infernal Affairs movies. It also carries the same rather bleak atmosphere and this is maintained throughout. While not a complete failure, it just doesn’t really feel like a needed addition to the excellent first two films (by the way it also makes the sum total of absolutely no sense if you haven’t seen the other two).