The Infernal Affairs Trilogy

Part of a multi-title set


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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.

Picture 7/10

The Criterion Collection presents Andrew Lau Wai-keung’s and Alan Mak’s The Infernal Affairs Trilogy in an all-new three-disc set. Each film (Infernal Affairs I, II and III) appears on an individual dual-layer Blu-ray disc in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. All three films have also been restored in 4K by Media Asia using scans of the 35mm original camera negatives performed by L’Immagine Ritrovata. They are all presented here with 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes.

The presentations end up being, to say the least, a bit frustrating. All three of the films have been cleaned-up beautifully and I can’t say a single blemish ever appears throughout any of the films, or nothing noteworthy at any rate. Unfortunately, this may be more due to excessive digital manipulation rather than a frame-by-frame approach to cleaning it up.

Sadly, the image for all three films have been filtered to a certain degree, and while this is frustrating enough on its own it ends up being even more so since the level of noise reduction applied across all three films is not consistent. The first and second films end up coming out looking especially problematic as they have both been excessively “scrubbed.” At its worst grain is still kind of there but it’s incredibly flat and mushy, leading to finer details being wiped out and a generally textureless image. Then, other portions of the films seem to have had less digital noise reduction applied and grain becomes a little more prominent (if not entirely clean and natural), increasing the details. It’s all exceedingly irritating because it’s clear whoever is responsible for this (and it’s almost surely Media Asia and neither Criterion nor Ritrovata) knew enough not to max out the filtering to the point where everything looks like plastic, but they still felt it was worthwhile to apply it at different levels depending on the scene.

All of that then leads to the first two films delivering a blurry looking image that is rarely sharp and also contains a number of artifacts that include slight edge-enhancement. This also impacts black levels and shadows to a degree. Black levels are mostly fine (a bit murky and flat here and there) and the range in the shadows can be impressive at the presentation's best, but whether it be the master or even an issue with Criterion’s encode (it’s actually very hard to say) banding in the shadows is evident, and it’s probably worse in the second film.

And this all becomes very trying as one watches because during those films’ stronger moments the presentation really shows promise and actually comes off passable, and it raises the question around why wasn't it kept at the same level throughout these two films. Then we get to the third film! Whatever the reason, the third film seems to have had the digital manipulation reined in more when compared to the first two films, with the image retaining more of the inherent grain and, in turn, retaining more fine-object detail. There are still issues, and some scenes still feature a waxier texture, but this presentation features a far more film-like look compared to the first two films and that look remains surprisingly consistent throughout the film's runtime. I have no idea why this is the case and why this isn't true for the first two films as well.

Even though the third film is still far from perfect it at least keeps a mostly consistent look, and if the other two films could have kept that consistency in quality these presentations could have been far more satisfying if not entirely perfect.

Infernal Affairs (2002): 7/10 Infernal Affairs II (2003): 7/10 Infernal Affairs III (2003): 8/10

Audio 8/10

All three films present lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtracks. In a new interview found in the features the directors mention that to have the film stick out from so many other cop/undercover cop films coming out in Hong Kong at the time (with the industry going through a recession) they knew they would have to go big. Two of these “big” aspects ended up being an orchestral score and 5.1 surround.

For all three films the score sounds especially good (if maybe overdone) and the scores are mixed effectively through the speakers with a nice subtle use of the lower frequency. The rest of the mixes don’t come off especially unique, though, some action and ambient noise mixed to the rears with most everything else positioned to the fronts. Dialogue is clear at least, showing strong fidelity, and range is very wide with the score reaching some impressive highs. Bass is also decent, though gets more of a working in the third film due to some of the settings.

None of the tracks really stuck out for me in the end but they work for the films at hand.

Extras 8/10

Criterion spreads features across all three discs though disappointingly very little in new material can be found. The biggest new feature, included on the first disc, is a 38-minute interview featuring directors Andy Lau Wai-keung and Alan Mak. In it the two go over their cinematic influences and how they met before then detailing the road to getting the first Infernal Affairs made, John Woo’s Face/Off apparently inspiring the base story, funny enough. They note that at the time, when the Hong Kong film industry was in dire straits cop and undercover cop films were a dime-a-dozen, so they had to make it stick out while also making it big, noting the need for a big orchestral score and 5.1 surround. They also needed a stand-out cast, which led them to Andy Lau and Tony Leung, along with Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang. They then talk about the film’s success and the follow-up ones (interestingly both filmmakers prefer the second one) before talking briefly about Martin Scorsese’s remake, The Departed. Disappointingly the two end up focusing more time on the first film and barely mention the other two, but it’s still an enjoyable overview of the film.

Also sort of new (though constructed from archival material filmed in 2007) is the 23-minute program Hong Kong Noir, put together by filmmaker Yves Montmayeur and featuring director Mak, screenwriter Felix Chong, and then Peter Tsi, director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival. It features the three talking about audience expectations in Hong Kong and Mainland China at that time, audiences wanting more thought put into the films they would go see. The discussion then turns to Infernal Affairs’ script and its many drafts before concluding on the topic of Hollywood’s insistence on remaking films from other countries. Felix also likes to point out that Scorsese’s biggest hit was a remake of his film. It’s an interesting time capsule/reflection on this specific period in Hong Kong filmmaking.

The rest of the material is then all archival in nature. The first and second films (not the third) then come with commentaries featuring the two directors and screenwriter Felix Chong. Interestingly, the tracks also feature a number of actors (though maybe taken from interviews), which Criterion doesn’t point out in their notes for some odd reason. Annoyingly, there’s nothing in the tracks indicating who is talking, but based on the comments being made I’m pretty sure actors Eric Tsang, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong and (possibly) Andy Lau appear on the track for the first film, while Tsang, Wong, Carina Lau, Edison Chen, Shawn Yue, Hu Jun, Francis Ng, Chapman To and a couple of others (who I’m not too sure on admittedly) appear on the second.

The two tracks cover similar ground, the filmmakers talking about the construction of the story and its themes, plus where they could go when working on the sequels. The actors then talk about working with Chong on their characters (in some instances) or even talk about how they approached their characters. Leung at one point even talks about his process and how he approaches a role. There are also some interesting comments around how certain actors will approach acting, with it sounding as though Lau and Leung (and some others) may prefer roles where they can probably build off of themselves (not always, though), where others like Ng (who plays the antagonist in the second film) really likes to figure a character out and build them from scratch.

The second one probably features more dead space compared to the first (which actually ends just before the elevator scene near the end of the film, making me wonder if it was recorded over the mainland China version of the film) but found it far more informative and enjoyable simply because there are more people here, helping it move at a quicker pace. The first can be a bit drier.

Both tracks are also presented with English subtitles.

The first and second films then come with deleted scenes, outtakes or alternate sequences. The first film is the only one to come with an alternate ending. Criterion’s notes explain Mainland China required—avoiding spoilers—a clearer resolution to the film. It runs 19-minutes, and most of the material here is also in the final film, but the final moments change things significantly. The outtakes for the first film consist of extended moments and what appears to be b-roll, along with what could be considered bloopers. Altogether the footage runs about 23-minutes and some of it doesn’t feature sound.

The deleted scenes for the second film prove interesting though can’t say the sequences would have added much. The first scene extends on an early birthday party scene (runs around 3-minutes), the second expands on a short sequence in the film in a prison basketball court (about 1-minute), and then the third delivers a whole new scene where Lau messes with one of his supervisors (4-minutes). The fourth sequence, just over a minute, involves an amusing conversation around how movie mob bosses are usually short.

The second film also comes with bloopers, running about 2-minutes. They provide the expected flubs and such, but it also features an amusing additional angle around a scene where a character is hit by a car.

Each film then comes with promotional making-of documentaries, running 14, 22, and 12-minutes respectively. They feature interviews with the filmmakers and actors. There’s also 16-minutes’ worth of interview footage shot by Frédéric Ambroisine in 2004 around the third film (appearing on the third disc) and featuring the director, Chong, and actors Kelly Chen, Wong, and To. The other two films then come with behind-the-scenes material. The material for the second film is especially interesting as you get to see how a few of the effects shots were done, including the biggest jump in the film (which ends up being surprisingly hokey when you see how it was done). All three films then come with trailers.

Much to my shock there are no academic features to be found, and I was probably most surprised not to see someone like Tony Rayns show up, who did participate on Criterion’s Once Upon a Time in China box set. The included booklet does feature an essay on the trilogy by Justin Chang, and while it’s a decent read (if surprisingly short) I still feel another academic video feature would have proved beneficial.

The supplements, sadly, aren’t what they could be.


It’s nice to finally have all the films together in North America, but it’s a shame the set feels to fall short of being the comprehensive release it could be. The supplements leave a lot of room for improvement while the presentations can be wildly inconsistent thanks to digital manipulation.

Part of a multi-title set


Year: 2002 | 2003 | 2003
Time: 101 | 119 | 118 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1159
Licensor: Media Asia Film
Release Date: November 15 2022
MSRP: $99.95
3 Discs | BD-50
2.35:1 ratio
Cantonese 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region A
 Audio commentary for Infernal Affairs featuring codirectors Andrew Lau Wai-keung and Alan Mak and screenwriter Felix Chong, along with actors Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Eric Tsang, and Anthony Wong   Alternate ending for Infernal Affairs   New interview with Andrew Lau Wai-keung and Alan Mak   Hong Kong Noir: New program by filmmaker Yves Montmayeur and featuring interviews with Alan Mak, Felix Chong, and Peter Tsi, director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival   Making-of featurette for Infernal Affairs   Confidential File: Behind-the-scenes footage from Infernal Affairs   Outtakes from Infernal Affairs   Trailer for Infernal Affairs   Supercut Trailer   Audio commentary for Infernal Affairs II featuring codirectors Andrew Lau Wai-keung and Alan Mak and screenwriter Felix Chong, along with actors Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Carina Lau, Edison Chen, Shawn Yue, Hu Jun, Francis Ng, and Chapman To Man-chat   Making-of featurette for Infernal Affairs II   Confidential File: Behind-the-scenes footage from Infernal Affairs II   Deleted Scenes for Infernal Affairs II   Bloopers from Infernal Affairs II   Trailer for Infernal Affairs II   Archival interviews with Andrew Lau Wai-keung, Alan Mak, Felix Chong, and actors Anthony Wong, Kelly Chen, and Chapman To Man-chat   Making-of featurette for Infernal Affairs III   Trailer for Infernal Affairs III   An essay by film critic Justin Chang