MOVIE REVIEW | ***FOREIGN LANGUAGE WEEKEND*** Infernal Affairs (2002)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous syas: “I’ll definitely be watching the two sequels (prequels?).”

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The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched.  The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again.   But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough.  I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies.  With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.

“Remember this, if you see someone doing something but at the same time watching you… then he is a cop.”

As a wannabe movie nerd, I know there’s a real hole in my knowledge of and appreciation for Hong King cinema, specifically Hong Kong action cinema.  I think before now, John Woo’s Hard Boiled might have been the total extent of my Hong Kong viewing.  And even then, I was a little underwhelmed by what I’m lead to believe is a bit of a bench mark in the genre.  Maybe I’d seen too many derivative American knock offs to really appreciate what Hard Boiled had to offer, but it didn’t compel me to see more.  What did compel me to see more was knowing that Martin Scorsese’s The Departed was a remake of the Hong Kong movie, Infernal Affairs.


Tony Leung is Chan Wing-yan, a cop who goes undercover to infiltrate a gang of triads, he’s the Leonardo DiDacprio of Infernal Affairs.  Andy Lau is dirty cop Lau Kin-ming, on the payroll of the same triads, let’s call him, Matt Damon.  Their shared triad boss is Eric Tsang’s Hon Sam, AKA Jack Nicholson.  If you’ve seen The Departed, you know this is a cat and mouse game where Leung and Lau are both constantly cat and mouse at the same time.  Each is hot on the other’s trail, trying to uncover their deception, while all the time knowing they’re also being pursued by one another.  It’s an ouroboros, snake eating its own tail kind of deal.

Co-directors Wai-keung Lau and Alex Mak really know how to turn the screws on a story and wring out every drop of tension in a given scene.  Even though I’d seen The Departed and knew where the story was ultimately headed, I couldn’t help getting caught up in the suspense of it all.  Every time one cop almost caught the other, I was genuinely invested in and excited by what came next.

For a movie that seems so reliant on its Hong Kong setting, characters and history, it’s amazing how faithful Scorsese’s Boston centric remake was.  The Departed really is a beat by beat remake with only a few changes.  The most obvious being the pacing.  If you thought The Departed crammed a lot of plot, twists and turns into 151 minutes, you might get whiplash watching Infernal Affairs tell the same story in just over 90.

In The Departed, we see Damon’s character as a young boy when he meets Nicholson’s for the first time.  We see DiCaprio introduced to Nicholson’s gang, we see him stuck on the edges of the gang, we see him gradually earn the trust and acceptance of the gang.  Infernal Affairs starts with Leung already ten years into his undercover assignment and Lau already working for Tsang.  We’re dropped in the middle of this thing and expected to hit the ground running.

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As faithful a remake as The Departed is, having already seen Scorsese’s version in no way means the shine has been taken of Lau and Mak’s original.  In fact, having seen The Departed so many times made me appreciate Infernal Affairs even more.  It’s really interesting and entertaining to see how another culture approaches a story like this, the different rhythms and techniques of film making lead to a really unique film, even if the plots are almost carbon copies.  I’ll tell you this much, I’ll definitely be watching the two sequels (prequels?) that come with the Hong Kong original.

(Review originally posted Sept 17, 2013)

Infernal Affairs
Directed By – Wai-keung Lau, Alan Mak
Written By – Alan Mak, Felix Chong

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have ot say about Infernal Affairs?
The A.V Club
Roger Ebert
Japan Cinema

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