Infernal Affairs Trilogy Blu-ray Review
The first film comes to Blu-ray with a decent 1080p High Definition rendition in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.35:1. It was made less than a decade ago so you could argue that it should be a better presentation, but for a Hong Kong title it really is pretty damn good, and certainly better than any of the previous multiple SD-DVD releases. Detail is generally of a good standard, particularly when there is good lighting, but some scenes showcase some unnecessary softness and noticeable edge enhancement, both of which certainly detract from your enjoyment of the visuals. Sam’s speech to his troops about Caesar occasionally dips into little more than upscaled SD-DVD quality, and yet some of the shots both before and after it look fantastic. The neon-driven colour scheme is far more consistently strong, the metallic blue and green-dominated hues looking fantastic, and held together by a gritty, filmic level of grain. Skin tones are well-rendered, but again – from shot to shot – you can definitely see the difference in quality, some faces looking DNR’d into Predator territory, whilst others display every single hair, every bead of sweat. The only really annoying digital defect that I could spot was a slight skipping which occurred on half a dozen occasions, for a fraction of a second each time. It basically looked like a frame had been removed, and was thus normally more apparent during moving sequences.
The second and third movies look marginally better – we’re talking less obvious edge enhancement, less noticeable softness and less blatant use of DNR to smooth out the shots – and still maintain all of the positive aspects from the first film’s presentation: excellent rendition of the metallic blue and green hues and neon-lit streets, accurate skin tones and decent black levels, all boasting that same nicely gritty filmic grain which lends itself well towards aggrandising this modern classic trilogy. Overall, if you compare these video presentations to any of the previous SD-DVD releases, you will find that they are still a clear upgrade – there’s no question about that – but they do come with flaws (more obviously on the first of the three films), most of which are both acceptable and understandable, but some of which seem somewhat random and marginally irritating.
Infernal Affairs itself is the only film in this pack which comes with an uncompressed HD track, boasting an original native Cantonese LPCM 5.1 track as well as a standard Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Honestly, this wasn’t such a bad thing, but I don’t understand why they didn't go for matching tracks across all three films - whether LPCM or DTS-HD MA. With Infernal Affairs we get decent dialogue presentation, emanating predominantly from across the frontal array, and taking precedence wherever appropriate. None of the movies are particularly effects driven – there are no humungous gun battles, or massive explosions, but every shot we do hear, rings out with both directionality and significant potency. This is as evident on the LPCM mix as it is on the DTS-HD offerings.
The Infernal Affairs “theme” runs across the trilogy, obvious with different variations, and the score itself is a mixture of excellent moments, bringing both beats and guitar twangs to the fore, as well as ridiculous over-thematic segments (the opening credit music often seems so over-the-top it ought to be on Jurassic Park or perhaps some HK fantasy adventure like Jackie Chan’s The Myth. All three films suffer in this respect, having truly mixed bag scores which have very brilliant moments, but also a few silly segments that don’t quite work. When they do work, however, they sweep you up in the tense, dramatic proceedings, and go some way towards enhancing your enjoyment of the movie. Out of the two other movies in the collection, although they both boast identical DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks (again in the original native Cantonese, although Infernal Affairs III has plenty of Mandarin dialogue too because of the presence of characters who have come from mainland China) Infernal Affairs III stands out in almost every respect. The Infernal Affairs II mix offers up nice atmospherics, keen observation of the environment at all times, but III has even more punch and potency, and the track is perhaps a little more aggressive too, maybe to accentuate the psychological strands of the story. Bass is more prevalent on the lossless mixes, but all three presentations are certainly good.
I’ve already mentioned the subtitle problems on Infernal Affairs in the main body of the review. Basically Infernal Affairs has always had some kind of subtitle issues on all of its earlier SD-DVD releases, and I’m sorry to say that they are the same here. It’s difficult to explain but basically it sounds as if a translator has worked on translating the dialogue, but does not have a very fluent grasp of English himself, so the end result is very basic and, at times, requires an element of ‘interpretation’ in order to be able to fully understand what was truly meant by what the characters said. This has never been an overt problem with either of the other two movies in the set when it comes to SD-DVD releases, and on Blu-ray both the prequel and sequel have superior English subtitles to the first movie. In addition, there is a major continuity flaw at the end of the first movie, which is perpetuated as a result (I assume) of the changes forced by the Chinese to make the ending more ‘politically correct’. Although we don’t get this altered version of the movie itself (which is good, because it wouldn’t allow for Infernal Affairs III to even exist), one line from the subtitles related to it appears to have made it through to this version of the film, and totally contradicts the opening set-up of the third movie. I have explained this as best I can in the film portion of the review, but any further questions, feel free to post in the forums. Basically, the subtitles on Infernal Affairs II and III are good, but for the first film, they could and should have had better.
There have always been a fair few extras available on the previous SD-DVD incarnations of the Infernal Affairs movies (although clearly the first film gets the best selection), so it is nice to see the majority of them ported over for consumption here, creating a fairly hefty package for the overall trilogy. Better still, where some of the previously available extras didn’t use to come with English subtitles (making them pretty worthless), they now ALL have English subtitles.
Disc 1– Infernal Affairs
The audio commentaryis by the two directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, along with a number of the cast members including Andy Lau and Eric Tsang. Because it is in their native language Cantonese, complete with English subtitles, you can basically have the commentary running like a trivia track across the movie.It is actually quite aninteresting offering: they talk about the different levels of hell, and the punishment you get to fit the crime you have perpetrated. Most of the comments are made by relatively unidentifiable voices, although Eric Tsang is a little more distinctive, and they almost all talk about character and plot development with a surprisingly low amount of technical detail. The writer talks about how he wrote the story in 27 hours, non-stop, in order to keep the plot intact. It’s a relatively good track that could still do with some kind of identification of the commentators involved– perhaps coloured subtitles or their name beforehand would make it perfect. And although I don’t like purely technical commentaries, this one languished for far too long on the story and characters, often telling the viewer much of what he would have already gleamed from having watched the film.
Making Of Featurette
This 15 minute featurette follows many of the main cast members, discussing their characters and the various plot themes, including the philosophy of right and wrong established in the movie. There is some behind the scenes footage and lots of clips from the film. They praise the terrible Celine Dion-style ballads and further explain the use of Infernal Affairs as a name indicative of perpetual hell. (I still think it sounds a little like something Dastardly would say to Mutley).
This 6 minute featurette features even more clips and a huge montage of behind the scenes footage. There is also a brief look at the promotional ceremony for the release.
The alternative ending is interesting out of curiosity value but, to be honest, it is far inferior to the standard theatrical ending. This ending was used for the Chinese release of the film, supposedly to retain ‘political correctness’ at the behest of the Chinese government. Unfortunately, not only was is it an awfully trite, tacked-on ending that makes almost no sense and does not fit at all with the flow of the rest of the movie, but it also completely ruins the chance of ever having a sequel (in terms of story). Still, as I stated, for curiosity value, it’s worth seeing what the filmmakers were forced to do to cater for more politically correct public consumption.
We get a fairly hefty 9 minutes of outtakes here, but it should be noted that they are not really very funny at all. I’m not sure why you really need a blooper reel on a movie as dark and serious as Infernal Affairs, but if they were going to include one, they could have at least shown the cast and crew having fun during the production. Watching them drop their ear-pieces or making other tiny mistakes gets pretty damn tedious after a while, and this extra can easily be skipped.
Finally we get a couple of Trailers – the original native language Cantonese Theatrical Trailer and the awfully-dubbed English alternative Trailer.
Disc 2 – Infernal Affairs II
Making Of Featurette
This 22-minute Featurette has the Cast and Crew talking about the production. It starts by looking at the relationship between Lau and Mary, Sam’s wife, moving on to the story of Hau and his rise to power. Basically the whole plot is dissected, and each character is looked at and explained by both the directors, and the actors who play the parts – with a great deal of film footage in between almost every phrase. There’s about 5 minutes’ worth of interview footage here, along with another couple of minutes of behind the scenes shots – the rest appears to just be scenes taken from the film itself, which is a little disappointing. Still, it is nice to see all of the cast and crew contributing to the extras.
This 6 minute Featurette largely just consists of a montage of footage with the theme from the film playing in the background. The stars are seen getting haircuts, there is a little bit of behind the scenes footage of them in action, the directors showing them what to do, and a few gags when they mess it up. A couple of the stunt sequences are shown in detail as well, along with the gunfights. Both the fire sequence and the car scenes look pretty good here – although the fire sequence looks better without the CGI flames. It’s a shame that they had to add them, when the guy was actually on fire as it was and it didn’t really need that much embellishment.
We get three Deleted Scenes – an extended scene with Chan at the policemen’s convention, a scene with Chan and Yeung at the prison, and then a scene with Lau finally working with the police. They total some 10 minutes of extra footage and are presented in fairly poor quality b-roll video form, but at least we finally get some English subtitles, which makes them much more watchable. There’s nothing vital to the proceedings here, but the material is all worth watching, in particular the scene where a young Lau deals with a problem with his police boss.
Finally we get the original Cantonese-language Theatrical Trailer to round off this disc.
Disc 3 – Infernal Affairs III
Making Of Featurette
This 12-minute offering again presents us with plenty of behind the scenes footage of scenes being shot, and of the cast and crew on-set, interspliced with interviews with all of the main players, explaining the complicated plot machinations and the themes of eternal neverending hell both within this sequel, and paralleled across the entire trilogy.
There’s also the original Cantonese-language Theatrical Trailer finishing off the selection of extra features.
This is one of the best trilogies I have ever come across – three very different movies (an exceptionally crafted cop thriller, a gangster film and a psychological drama) which all carry themes of personally-crafted eternal hell within them and address issues of morality and treachery, and the cost of having a double-identity on your own psyche. Expertly shot by Directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, boasting an all-star cast of superior performers, and telling three compelling stories in new and unique ways, which often include clever time-plotting and dual-narrative structuring, this is definitely a must-see trilogy, and it’s easy to see why it’s often been called the Hong Kong equivalent to the Godfather Trilogy, even if the parallels are sometimes only quite loose.
It’s just a shame that one of my favourite Directors, Martin Scorsese, has largely ruined the experience of these Hong Kong movies for Western audiences, after having shamelessly ripped-off the first instalment with his wholly unnecessary, often shot-for-shot remake, The Departed. If you’ve missed Scorsese’s film, or can somehow forget it ever existed in the first place, then this trilogy will be infinitely more enjoyable, and even those familiar with The Departed should find significant worth in the trilogy as a whole, and hopefully understand why it was another massive Hollywood misstep for them to even attempt to remake it.
On Region B locked UK Blu-ray we get decent but not exceptional video presentations and a solid selection of audio tracks, as well as a hefty collection of extras that definitely enhance your enjoyment of the main features. This is, without a doubt, the best package that the trilogy has ever known, and definitely warrants an upgrade for fans of the films. Newcomers should trust me on this one – this is a blind buy package. You need these films in your collection. Highly recommended.
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