Cold War was a triumph of style over substance. That it racked up nine victories at the Hong Kong Film Awards that year was testament to 2012/13’s relatively modest offerings. Comparisons to Infernal Affairs were also generous.
Nonetheless, with Hong Kong audiences so starved of serviceable police/triad thrillers these days, the sequel arrives with considerable anticipation. Beginning immediately after the original’s cliffhanger ending, with a brief recap to remind or instruct viewers of what took place first time around, in most respects, Cold War 2 is a better film than its predecessor. The narrative is clearer and the procedural scenes made more bearable by the addition of Chow Yun-fat to the cast, as a retired lawyer, exuding the same effortless charisma and class he always has. The fim’s biggest failing is the ridiculous rewriting of one of its main characters. To say too much would spoil things, but the volte-face performed is never convincing. If viewers are willing to shut off their brains – and this is a summer blockbuster after all – then this matters little. But such lazy writing shouldn’t be ignored.
Arguably, the first Cold War has become significantly prescient in retrospect. The first film’s focus on any damage done to Hong Kong’s reputation as ‘Asia’s safest city’ looks prophetic in the aftermath of events like 2014’s Occupy Central, which saw the protests castigated from various corners for damaging the city’s reputation for stability and the consequences that might have for its economy. It’s a shame this sequel fails to capitalise on the theme and bring it into sharper focus two years on. With local filmmakers keeping one eye on the Mainland, perhaps that’s no surprise. Instead, the film takes pot shots at vague ‘vested interests’, who operate out of dark, wood paneled rooms, smoking cigars and sipping whisky. These make for much safer targets while Xi Jinping’s waves of ‘reform’ roll on.
With a third installment not so much hinted at as signposted in bright neon lights Las Vegas style, it’s still possible directors Longman Leung and Sunny Luk can match Infernal Affairs. The star power is there, the production values are in place. If only they can put more effort into their script. Douglas Parkes