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Release Date: November 15th, 2022 Movie Release Year: 2002

The Infernal Affairs Trilogy - The Criterion Collection

Overview -

The Infernal Affairs Trilogy is still impactful, poignant, and amazing twenty years later after its release. The story of the corrupt police force in Hong Kong and the undercover moles and detectives that are working both sides is one hell of a story. Due to its big success overseas, Martin Scorsese remade the film into The Departed. The 1080p HD images look good but have some issues and the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio options all sound great. The new bonus feature along with all the archival extras is excellent. Recommended!

 

The Infernal Affairs Trilogy

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.

Infernal Affairs 2002

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.

Infernal Affairs II 2003

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 parallel 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.

Infernal Affairs III 2003

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.

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
New 4K digital restorations
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
338
Aspect Ratio(s):
2.35:1
Audio Formats:
5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks
Subtitles/Captions:
New English subtitle translations
Special Features:
PLUS: An essay by film critic Justin Chang
Release Date:
November 15th, 2022

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Back in 2002, Hong-Kong filmmakers Andrew Lau and Alan Mak released their magnum opus crime film titled Infernal Affairs. The film also starred Lau and Tony Leung, along with quite a few prominent and big-named Hong-Kong stars. Mak and Felix Chong wrote the screenplay about moles working both for and against a ruthless Triad organized crime gang. Infernal Affairs struck gold both financially and critically, earning it numerous awards and praise from everyone. The following year, two sequels were made, both of which won more awards and furthered the story in both prequel and sequel formats. A lot of people had no idea that these amazing films existed until 2006 when the legend himself, Martin Scorsese remade the first film for American audiences with The Departed.

That Scorsese film also had a stunning cast that had Leo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin amongst other stars, and not only did the film do well at the box office, but it also earned Scorsese his only Directing Oscar to date. The Departed went on to win Best Picture, and Screenplay, along with a few other nominations, including that rare nom for Wahlberg. All of that love and praise came from the dynamic storytelling and characters of Infernal Affairs, which Mak and Lau are responsible for.

The first Infernal Affairs film plays out pretty much exactly as The Departed. The twists and surprises are intact as well as Lau, Chan, Sam, and Wong are working to figure out who the moles are and who the undercover cops are who have infiltrated the chaotic Triad gang. Again, the whole story plays out the same as in the Scorsese film for the most part. Scorsese held Infernal Affairs to a high standard and wanted to make sure his tribute would make everyone happy and it did. With the success of the first film, it was only ideal that Mak and Lau make their Godfather-Esque trilogy complete, which is exactly what they did.

Infernal Affairs II, the movie serves as a prequel over ten years prior to the events of the first film where Lau and Chan are training in the police academy and first start working with Wong. Like in Godfather II, the story reveals how the Triad came to even more power and eventually to its ultimate reign in the first film, along with its downfall. The Triad leader is killed and his son takes over, as both new police recruits finally become the moles in the investigation. The filmmakers slowed the pace down for this second film as it has a more brooding tone, showcasing the inner workings of both the corrupt police force and the triad organization. It's a wonderful prequel.

And Infernal Affairs III goes in both directions as it acts as a prequel and sequel to the original film, running parallel storylines to bring these characters full circle. Lau is under investigation for Chan's death while Sam is dealing with some business that gets a bit dicey. Many secondary characters come back into the fray in the third film while flashbacks resolve some major plot points from the films that include Wong and Sam's relationship during this whole murderous time. This final film is the sleekest looking of the bunch, while the second film is its darkest tone. It's a pitch-perfect trilogy that maybe someday, someone will remake in succession to The Departed. Even after almost twenty years, The Infernal Affairs Trilogy feels fresh and poignant. Those political and societal problems of corruption in Hong Kong play a big role in the films as does the city itself, showcasing its beauty in unexpected places, just like Boston did for The Departed. This is one of those trilogies that will be around forever as one of the greatest of all time.

 

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
The Infernal Affairs Trilogy goes undercover with a three-disc Blu-ray set in Digipak form via Criterion. The three discs are housed inside a soft cardboard case with a cardboard sleeve. The spine number is 1159. There is a great booklet that features a ton of information on the film and its transfer. The sleeve artwork features that famous scene on top of the roof with the two men face to face with a gun. And the case itself closeup of the main two stars from the film. There is no insert for a digital code.

Video Review

Ranking:

The Infernal Affairs Trilogy comes with a great-looking 1080p HD transfer from the Criterion Collection. According to the booklet, the films are presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and are 4K digital restorations that were done by the company Media Asia from the original 35mm camera negative. Unfortunately at this time, there are no native 4K Discs.

These 1080p HD Discs look good, although there are some issues with them. From their previous releases, these New Criterion Discs are far superior, bringing a more dynamic and colorful palette to the plate. Colors are well-balanced and more nuanced this time around, and if a 4K image is ever released, it might be even better than this transfer. Each film is set in greenish-blue hues or yellow tones. Even in the exterior shots of Hong Kong, these filters and styles are applied. Scorsese took some of those greens and blues and implemented them into his own film as well.

But in these three Infernal Affairs movies, they are everywhere. The second film is a bit darker than the rest, which was a stylistic choice since the tone and themes are much more sinister. More black levels are in use there which are always inky and deep without crush troubles. There are a few instances in the first two films where bleeding black levels occur in the darker sequences, but it's not a big issue. Skin tones almost have a greenish-blue tint to them as well, but again, that's the style that was used. The third film looks the best here as many of the color issues are resolved that time around.

The detail is sharp in certain sequences, but for the most part, the image of all three movies has a soft touch to it. Almost like it's a fantasy movie. This is probably due to the destabilization that occurred during these transfers in regard to the new color grading adjustments in its digital workflow. The depth of field I wider shots of the city along with certain closeups look softer than they should and it can't be helped to wonder when a 4K release comes out, if these problems will be fixed. The clarity in bigger action sequences tends to fall as well. But then in other scenes, the detail can reveal individual hairs, facial pores, wounds, and textures in the clothing and in cars and props.

These films look good and are perhaps the best they've ever looked at thus far, but with some of these issues creeping up in each film, one can't help but think that a 4K release might improve on these situations and be the ultimate way to see them. That being said, the third film in the trilogy by far looks the best and has virtually none of these problems, besides some minor fluctuations in clarity.

Audio Review

Ranking:

This release comes with lossless Cantonese DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mixes with English subtitles that are optional. These are all great audio options that provide an immersive experience inside the police force and Triad of Hong Kong. Sound effects are robust and well-balanced on all accounts. The gunshots, vehicles driving by, and fight choreography all sound wonderfully tough.

The low end of bass comes in with a great rumble at the bigger moments without rockiness. Ambient noises of city life, people yelling and talking, along with other vehicles going by all sound fantastic in the surround speakers. The dialogue and music cues are all fantastic as well. There are no audio problems to speak of in any of these films. The subtitles do a great job of following along with the Cantonese language.

Special Features

Ranking:

There are over 200 minutes of bonus features included in this set, spread across each disc. There is only one new bonus feature though which is an excellent new interview with the filmmakers. Audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes, and outtakes are also here and worthy of the time.

Disc One

  • Audio Commentary - Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, and Felix Chong recorded a commentary track for the previous release years ago, as they discuss the origins of the film, casting, the story, anecdotes from the set, and more. It's a great listen. In Cantonese with English subtitles.
  • Alternate Ending (HD, 20 Mins.) - This was shot strictly to make the Chinese Government happy and was for the theatrical release in mainland China. The original ending is far better.
  • Andrew Lau and Alan Mak (HD, 39 Mins.) - A brand new interview with the directors made for this release as the two talk about. making the film, getting the cast together, and how it all came about. A fantastic extra.
  • Hong Kong Noir (HD, 24 Mins.) - This interview is from 2007 and features Mak and Chong talking about the societal and political impact the films had along with those elements being added to the films themselves.
  • Making Of (HD, 15 Mins.) - An EPK piece from the making of the movies, where the cast and crew are interviewed along with tons of on-set footage.
  • Confidential File (HD, 9 Mins.) - Behind-the-scenes footage from the key scenes and location shoots are shown here.
  • Outtakes Reel (HD, 24 Mins.) - An extremely long outtake reel that can be funny at times.
  • Trailers (HD, 5 Mins.) - Two Trailers for the film.

Disc Two

  • Audio Commentary - Lau, Mak, and Chong are back for another great commentary track on their second film, which they recorded years ago for a previous release.
  • Making Of (HD, 22 Mins.) - An archival look at on-set footage and interviews from the cast and crew.
  • Confidential File (HD, 6 Mins.) - Like the one above, this showcases footage from the shoot and locations around Hong Kong.
  • Deleted Scenes and Bloopers (HD, 14 Mins.) - There are a few deleted scenes and a short blooper reel.
  • Trailer (HD, 3 Mins.) - The trailer for the film.

Disc Three

  • Interviews (HD, 17 Mins.) - From 2004, these feature interviews with the cast and crew on the making of the third film.
  • Making Of (HD, 13 Mins.) - Even more on-set footage from the making of the film with cast and crew interviews.
  • Trailer (HD, 3 Mins.) - The trailer for the film.
  • Criterion Booklet - A wonderful 34-page booklet that gives tech specs on each film, info on the cast and crew, dialogue about the transfer, and a great essay by Justin Chang.

Final Thoughts

Criterion has delivered a great package release for The Infernal Affairs Trilogy on Blu-ray. The films themselves are still top-notch in every aspect of filmmaking, acting, and storytelling. It's no wonder why Scorsese remade it for the USA. The video presentations are less than perfect, but they still look better than anything we've had before and the DTS-HD 5.1 audio tracks all sound amazing. The bonus features that have been imported along with the new interview are all gems. Recommended!