Chinese movies are right up there with the very best when they put their hearts and souls into them. Take the cops/thriller/crime category, some of the best include Infernal Affairs, Cold War I, the amazing PTU series by Johnnie To Kei Fung ... all were amazing and right up there with the very best. So it would be a big thing for me to pronounce Cold War II as the best ever, bettering those that I have just mentioned.
It is not essential to have watched Cold War I, but if you did you will appreciate the underlying motivations and bad blood among the characters better.
Why was the movie so good... good vs evil, when they are not so clearly defined, its varying shades of gray, no one is completely blameless, even the good guys. The conversation was well scripted, it builds the mystery, the gravity of the situation .. so good. The storyline was magnificent, at every crossroad there were plenty of options the director, writer could have taken ... You get the nuances, you feel for the characters' underlying motivations.
The breakdown in what motivates a person: money, personal, family and power ... power=money. Mixed in the police force and the politicians trying to control every facet of the heirarchy, you have a potent mix. In any democratic country, the institutions that must be independent: THE JUDICIARY, THE POLICE FORCE and THE CENTRAL BANK ... if any of the institution's integrity of independence is compromised ... you get ... (you know the answer).
The return to the screen proper in a proper serious role by Chow Yun Fatt, was easily the best performance by him for a long while... if the eyes could talk. Aaro Kwok was great as usual, Tony Leung Ka Fai had the best role, more excruciating this time around and he nailed it.
My previous review of Cold War I: