The Hong Kong crime drama was jolted to new life with the release of the Infernal Affairs trilogy, a bracing, explosively stylish critical and commercial triumph that introduced a dazzling level of narrative and thematic complexity to the genre with its gripping saga of two rival moles—played by superstars Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau Tak-wah—who navigate slippery moral choices as they move between the intersecting territories of Hong Kong’s police force and its criminal underworld. Set during the uncertainty of the city-state’s handover from Britain to China and steeped in Buddhist philosophy, these ingeniously crafted tales of self-deception and betrayal mirror Hong Kong’s own fractured identity and the psychic schisms of life in a postcolonial purgatory.
Two of Hong Kong cinema’s most iconic leading men, Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau Tak-wah, face off in the breathtaking thriller that revitalized the city-state’s twenty-first-century film industry, launched a blockbuster franchise, and inspired Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. The setup is diabolical in its simplicity: two undercover moles—a police officer (Leung) assigned to infiltrate a ruthless triad by posing as a gangster, and a gangster (Lau) who becomes a police officer in order to serve as a spy for the underworld—find themselves locked in a deadly game of cat and mouse, each racing against time to unmask the other. As the shifting loyalties, murky moral compromises, and deadly betrayals mount, Infernal Affairs raises haunting questions about what it means to live a double life, lost in a labyrinth of conflicting identities and allegiances.
The first of two sequels to follow in the wake of the massively successful Infernal Affairs softens the original’s furious pulp punch in favor of something more sweeping, elegiac, and overtly political. Flashing back in time, Infernal Affairs II traces the tangled histories that bind the trilogy’s two pairs of adversaries: the young, dueling moles (here played by Edison Chen Koon-hei and Shawn Yue Man-lok), and the ascendant crime boss (Eric Tsang Chi-wai) and police inspector (Anthony Wong Chau-sang) whose respective rises reveal a shocking hidden connection. Unfolding against the political and psychological upheaval of Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China, this elegant, character-driven crime drama powerfully connects its themes of split loyalties to the city-state’s own postcolonial identity crisis.
Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau Tak-wah return for the cathartic conclusion of the Infernal Affairs trilogy, which layers on even more deep-cover intrigue while steering the series into increasingly complex psychological territory. Dancing back and forth in time to before and after the events of the original film, Infernal Affairs III follows triad gangster turned corrupt cop Lau Kin-ming (Lau) as he goes to dangerous lengths to avoid detection, matches wits with a devious rival in the force (Leon Lai), and finds himself haunted by the fate of his former undercover nemesis (Leung). A swirl of flashbacks, memories, and hallucinations culminates in a dreamlike merging of identities that drives home the trilogy’s vision of a world in which traditional distinctions between good and evil have all but collapsed.