IA One made its mark by trying something different, by appealing to the intelligence of the audience rather than their herd instinct for more of the same in cop and gangster movies. IA Two returned to a more main stream approach, and strove for quality. Both met with tremendous success. Personally, I prefer Two, which is the more entertaining of the two, but I do respect One for its achievement. IA Three, however, to a certain extent runs out of steam.
To begin with, IA Three was attempted with respectable ambitions and noble goals. At the end of IA One, the death of good guy Chan Wing-yan (`Yan') and the prospering of bad guy Lau Kin-ming (`Ming') caused a few raised eyebrows in the Hong Kong audience. And it was a lot more than raised eyebrows in the Mainland China movie censors, to the extent that an alternative ending had to be devised for Mainland screening. However, Andy Lau (who played Ming) explained in a radio interview that this apparent lacking in poetic justice was only in the middle of a story, and if we saw Ming struggling a little with his conscience in IA One, we ain't seen nothing yet.
IA Three purports to demonstrate exactly that. Flashbacks showed that Yan, during the few months leading to his death, was in a happy frame of mind, seeing that his 9 years of agony as a undercover agent is coming to an end. While unable to foresee his own death, Yan saw himself moving towards heaven. The polarised contrast is Ming, during the 10 months after Yan's death, is moving through purgatory, with hell as the final destination.
Had the movie makers concentrated on this character study, we would have seen a more coherently focused movie that has character. However, there is also the commercial aspect to be considered. As a result, two characters are introduced, together with elements of suspense that end in a lame anticlimax. Leon Lai and Daoming Chan are guaranteed box office draws in Hong Kong and the Mainland respectively and, yes, they are cool. But if style and form are what I'm after, I'll watch Johnny To's The Mission (1999) any day. All the aura of mystery created around these two characters end up in being much ado about nothing.
The beauty of the structure of IA Three's plot is somewhat ironic. When you see a plot which at the end has everything beautifully explained and loose ends neatly tied up (which unfortunately is quite rare), you applaud it as an excellent plot. IA Three however scales a height beyond, with a plot that does not require explaining, because in the infernal that Ming is going through in his mind, past and present, as well as reality and hallucination, are just a little blurred. Neat, isn't it?
IA Three is not such a terrible movie. However, if I were to join the most popular game in Hong Kong currently, of ranking the three Infernal Affairs, I would go Two, One and Three.
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