Director Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
Writer: Felix Chong, Alan Mak
Producer: Andrew Lau
Cast: Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Eric Tsang, Francis Ng, Carina Lau, Edison Chen, Shawn Yu Man-Lok, Andrew Lin, Roy Cheung Yiu-Yeung, Teddy Chan, Arthur Wong, Henry Fong Ping, Chapman To, Fu Ka Lei
Running Time: 119 min.
Let me begin by saying that the synopsis is not a spoiler. Being a prequel to the first IA, the ending of IA2 is a foregone conclusion – we know that Sam is a top triad boss and we know that Wong has every intention of taking him down.
With that being said, the appeal of IA2 is that the focus of this story is on the relationship between Wong and Sam, hinted only in the first IA as one that use to be quite amicable. In fact, IA2 actually starts off with both Wong and Sam sitting together in a police station sharing a meal and conversation. During this conversation, Wong confesses to Sam that he has never taken him down for his illegal activities because he truly believes him to be a noble person. Further, he also tells Sam that he would rather see him in power than the current top boss, Keung, as he believes that he would be less ruthless and bring balance to the criminal underworld.
This discussion hints at the things to come. As stated in the synopsis, throughout the rest of the film, betrayals are revealed and conclude what Wong originally wished for – and, as a result, remind everyone to be careful of what you wish for.
IA2 really shines in the fact that they’ve put the focus on strong actors who bring complexities to characters that could have been the usual one dimensional cookie-cutter type so prevalent in gangster movie after gangster movie. Anthony Wong is brilliant as the conflicted Inspector Wong who tries to balance the nobility of his profession with the “necessary evils” that he ends up getting involved with. He brings the usual intensity to this role as with his many others and while watching this film, I began to sympathize with his character as he made the difficult and mostly ruinous choices to take the triads down.
On the same coin, Eric Tsang also portrays Sam with a more layered characterization than in the first IA – we know that he’s ruthless in IA but IA2 allows Tsang to reveal the gradual hardening of Sam’s heart. Starting off as a noble follower of the Ngai family who never questions the leader, Sam is beset with a power play that he has never chosen to be involved in and this leads to an evolution into the cold and calculating triad boss in the end.
Playing Hau, the son of the assassinated top triad boss, Francis Ng also brings to his role the cool demeanor that he’s so good with. At first glance, Hau looks like a mild mannered accountant but as the film moves on, it’s obvious that lying behind the low-key manner is everything that Sam is destined to become – cold, calcuating, and ruthless. One of the best scenes in the movie has Hau calling up each of his father’s lieutenants while they’re having a late night dinner together. One by one, each fall victim to his blackmailing and have no choice but to swear allegiance to the new top boss. Whereas this could have fallen into parody with Ng yelling threats to everyone, it showed that more subtle methods are even more effective.
Carina Lau plays Mary, wife to Sam, and a catalyst for everything that happens throughout the film. Instead of playing the character as a subservient type of gangster moll, Lau gets to shine as a dedicated wife who gets a little too involved in her husband’s activities.
You’ll note that so far, I’ve made no mention of the characters of Yan (Shawn Yue playing a younger Tony Leung) and Ming (Edison Chen playing a younger Andy Lau). That’s because their roles are so minor in this film that it’s best to describe them as sub-plots that probably didn’t need to be in there. Sure, you see how they both end up as moles within the triads and within the police force but it really didn’t add anything to an already strong story.
Chapman To…well, he’s just an annoying tool in this movie. ‘Nuff said.
One more minor minus on this film – the score. The use of choral music seemed out of place in many scenes and unnecessarily overpowering in others.
CONCLUSION: IA2 is an excellent prequel and a great showcase for some strong acting. I would be quite happy if they stopped the franchise with this but with the critically-savaged IA3 already out and plans for a TV series, the old economics law of diminishing returns is inevitably going to take effect.
Owlman’s Rating: 9/10