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Crime Thriller Exposes The DUALITY of MAN in a Neverending Hell!

  • Sep 9, 2009

Martin Scorsese won best director for the movie “The Departed”, the same film that won Best Picture in the Academy Awards a few years ago. Sadly, some numbskull credited “Infernal Affairs” as a Japanese motion picture and to add insult to injury, the U.S. DVD release features Elva Hsiao’s head in a gun-toting woman in mini-skirts that had nothing to do with the film. Shows you how American studios disrespect Asian cinema and its fans before; they insist on misrepresenting those films. “The Departed” also features an ending akin to the film’s release in Mainland China, which says “crime does not pay” as an alternate ending. (It does cheapen the movie in my opinion)
With that aside, “INFERNAL AFFAIRS” (2002) is a film worthy of the praise and the hype it’s gotten. Despite some minor plot holes and devices, Alan Mak and Andrew Lau’s police thriller is highly gripping and very entertaining because of the performances of its cast. It is the second highest grossing film in Hong Kong in 2002, beaten by a slim margin by Stephen Chow’s “Shaolin Soccer”.

Two men. Two moles. Chan Wing Yan (Tony Leung, Red Cliff) is your typical tough as nails undercover cop; strong-willed, smart and totally committed to his assignment. When he was discharged from the academy, he was sent to infiltrate Hong Kong’s triads by Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong), and has been undercover for 10 years. Lau Kin Ming (Andy Lau, Three Kingdoms) is one of the most decorated cops in Hong Kong; but his awards and recognitions are only illusions. Lau has been sent to infiltrate the police force by a Triad crime lord (played by Eric Tsang), with information from his boss, Sam, Lau has solved cases to eliminate his boss’s criminal rivals. The two moles are set on a collision course…only one man, one mole will survive.
What makes “Infernal Affairs” different from other crime thrillers produced by Hong Kong every year? While movies such as “Running Out of Time” have used the mirror-image criminal-cop thing, the film does have a killer concept. The idea of opposing moles does give the film a ‘tweak’ in the right direction. The way the film is structured is similar to a cat and mouse game that the underlying suspense is built around the chase between our two moles provides an excellent cinematic experience. The fates of certain characters such as Anthony Wong’s character provide tension and the plot twists are definitely compelling. Most sequences are handled really well, and Scorsese made the right decision in keeping those scenes untouched even as mirror images of the original. (Funny he won best director for a remake)

The film also manages to expose and pushes the limits of the duality of man, the innate struggle within one‘s soul and its underlying perception between two worlds that repels each other. The Yin and the Yang are brought into exposition and marvelously summed up in the film’s opening paragraph “…Longevity is a Big Hardship in Continuous Hell”. Yan is a man being pushed to his breaking point, he is seeing a shrink to try to remember just who he is. Yan obviously has performed immoral acts in the service of the triad to keep his cover. Leung performs admirably in his role, you can just see the emotional anguish run wild in his eyes, that his character is clearly a man who wants out. A far opposite compared to the young cadet (young Yan is played by Shawn Yue) who was eager to do good. Lau is a man who was reluctant at first in joining the academy (young Lau is played by Edison Chen), but as the years went by, all the awards and recognitions as a cop, Lau began to believe just who he is in the surface. Andy Lau does a fine job in his portrayal, the man even brings a certain sinister quality to Lau. Their portrayal as moles with everything in black and white, with no gray areas are handled with pin-point accuracy.
Yan wants to get out to maintain his sanity, while Lau wants to get out for selfish reasons. The parallels of their troublesome lives are brought into exposition as the complex lives they lead become too difficult to maintain and are slowly eating away at who they are and who they want to be. The female roles may be minor ones, but they prove to be the catalysts for the two lead protagonists. Kelly Chen plays the beautiful Dr. Lee who becomes involved with Yan while Sammi Chen plays Mary who is Lau’s fiancé. Yan’s past love May is played by Elva Hsiao, who is now married and a mother. May is Yan’s past and may have been as important to his life as his commanding officer. The significance of the women in the film is uncanny, even though they may lack characterization and they are underdeveloped. Every man knows; every self-respecting man knows that women have the natural ability to change a man.

Those who are looking for an action-packed affair are better off watching Johnnie To’s “Exiled” and “Eye in the Sky”. “Infernal Affairs” is a character-driven film and it keeps the action to a minimum;  you will not see any gunfights between the characters portrayed by Leung and Lau. The battle of wits that started as a fight for survival ends as a fight for sufficiency and a fight for their own souls. I also commend the touch of Buddhist teachings in the film’s beginnings and climax; in a way it does sum up the film’s theme. “Infernal Affairs” has puzzles aplenty and provokes a reaction from its audience. It’s a fine example of synergy, where one takes all his resources and utilizes it to its utmost potential. “Infernal Affairs” is a familiar presentation done exquisitely well.
Now, "The Departed" was a very good movie and the question I am sure you are wondering about would be: Is “Infernal Affairs” a better film than Martin Scorsese’s remake?...the answer is a resounding YES!
Highly Recommended! [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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September 16, 2010
This film was so much better than 'The Departed", there are some around me that will want to kill me for saying that [by some I mean one, he is in love with that movie]. Any way this is the better film, and I must say I did enjoy 2 & 3 as well.
September 16, 2010
Alex, we all know that for about 99.9 % of the time, the original movie is always better! There are exceptions like The Thing and The Fly among some others, but they are very rare. Thanks, Bud.
September 19, 2010
If it's better than "The Departed," then I definitely have to see it. ;)
September 16, 2009
I agree that Infernal Affairs is a better film than The Departed. Have you seen all three films? What did you think?
September 17, 2009
This was definitely the better movie because it had several powerful themes to its screenplay. I was astounded that Scorsese won 'best director' for a remake. Scorsese does deserve an award, but just not for the Departed. I have seen all three films. I liked the first sequel (it being a sort of a prequel and all) but I rather thought INFERNAL AFFAIRS 3 was absolutely unnecessary. I may just review the other two movies within the next two weeks or so. The 9.5 hour Japanese movie is giving me a run for my money; it's going to be difficult reviewing such a long film. 3 more hours and I should be done....
September 14, 2009
Just 3 years ago before I finally managed to find a copy of Billy Chong's SUN DRAGON, I thought I'd lucked out and found it as part of a collection of m/a flix because he was pictured in a scene from the film on the front of the DVD. Good thing I checked though because he had nothing to do with any of the films in the package. Thank God I had the ptresence of mind to check first. I would have been really pissed if I'd bought it and found out the hard way. They truly have no respect.
September 14, 2009
I know what you mean. Asian cinema doesn't get any respect from U.S. studios which is why I prefer the imports. "Kung Fu Hustle" and "Shaolin Soccer" were also edited heavily in the U.S. they made them more like comedies than actual kung fu movies by toning down its violence. It was only recently that U.S. studios finally began respecting Asian cinema. (after they started remaking its best)
September 14, 2009
ReallY? The copies I have have both Chinese language and English language versions on them I've never seen the English language version though so I don't know how or even if it differs from the other one. I'll have to check it out now.
September 15, 2009
Shaolin Soccer is actually more violent and a bit more bloody in the uncut version. The U.S. release by Miramax contains both versions. "Kung Fu Hustle" was released a second time in the U.S. promoted as the "ax-kickin' edition" because fans were livid that Sony cut the violence.
September 15, 2009
Upon checking KUNG FU HUSTLE, you're right. I have the 'ax-kicking" edition.
September 09, 2009
Awesome job on this one. I wasn't the biggest fan of Scorsese's take on this, though the acting was phenomenal. I don't think I'll ever get the image of all the heads popping out of my mind. The last one was the funniest. Mark Wahlberg kind of kicked ass in that film, even if he was playing a racist jerk. Have you seen the previews for Scorsese's next film with Leo DiCaprio (this makes #4 I think). Believe it or not, it's a supernatural horror film set in an insane asylum.

Will you be reviewing the full "Infernal Affairs" trilogy?
September 10, 2009
the acting in "The Departed" carried most of the film's burden. It was a good remake but for me, the original would always win points. Scorsese just couldn't match the gritty incredible style and humanity in "Infernal Affairs". Wahlberg was so good in his role. As for Scorsese's next film "Shutter Island"(or something) yes the trailers look promising.

I would like to do the Infernal Affairs trilogy, as soon as I get my bearings. Reviewing a trilogy requires a mood; last time I did it was with Yoji Yamada's "Samurai trilogy" and Park Chan-Wook's "Vengeance trilogy".  I plan on taking a break after I post "9" to prepare for a major 9 hour movie review. The first sequel for "Infernal Affairs" was pretty decent, but I need to re-watch the 2nd sequel; I was distracted at the time. On another note, I reviewed this year's winner of best foreign film "Departures" more than a month ago. Have you seen it?
More Infernal Affairs reviews
Quick Tip by . September 17, 2010
posted in ASIANatomy
This film is the epitome of Hong Kong crime thrillers that it also inspired Martin Scorsese's THE DEPARTED.
review by . November 15, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
"Infernal Affairs" is one fascinating movie with a great premise. This has been a reasonably popular movie that had generated huge buzz when it came out, and since been talked, compared and still highly regarded as unsurpassed by countless fans worldwide. The woman holding the gun on the jacket of DVD really doesn't fit the portrayal of this movie because there's not one female actress firing one, probably a marketing gimmick.    The plot to this movie is simple and strong but …
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