Movies You Might Have Missed: Infernal Affairs

TitleInfernal Affairs (Mou gaan dou)
Release Date: 2002
Rating: R
Length: 101 minutes
Director: Andrew Lau Wai-Keung and Alan Mak
Starring: Andy Lau, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong
Language: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong

Martin Scorcese remade this film as The Departed, which was fine. It was good, but he had some great source material from which to work. Partly, I’m not a fan of Nicholson, partly it didn’t really need a remake, and partly I’m not sure it translates well to an American context though the plot is largely similar. Worth noting, some US releases of Infernal Affairs feature cover art that has nothing whatever to do with the plot. I guess they just figured sales would be better with a woman in a tight outfit holding a gun?

Andy Lau is a cop who is working on the force as a mole for a big time triad boss played by Eric Tsang. On the other side Tony Leung plays a cop under deep cover as a mole in Tsang’s organization. Each side becomes aware of the existence of the other’s mole during a drug deal and an attempted bust. The deal fails, but so does the bust and both sides realize their failure was due to the presence of a spy in their midst.

In a moment of irony each mole is put in charge of their side’s respective investigation into their own activities and identities. The parallels mount quickly and each is presented as being near to the inverse of the other. They are two sides to the same coin in many ways, but with some very crucial differences. There’s probably a Master’s thesis in there somewhere about changelings and homonculi.

The fourth main character is a police inspector played by Anthony Wong as the sole person on the police force who knows the identity of the undercover cop. Each of them is a big time Hong Kong star in their own right and they show why. The chemistry between them all is magical. They make the inner lives of each person shine in their actions, expressions, and tones. They’re all perfectly cast.

I don’t want to give away any more than that if you’re unfamiliar with the story, but I’ll say that the end of this movie is rather different than what you might expect. On the other hand, if you want the cliched ending, they shot it too because China wouldn’t show it on the mainland with the original as written. You can usually find the tired alternative version in the bonus features. It’s also rather different than the one in The Departed which is again, a bit inferior to the original which is more noir.

There are two “sequels” that have the clever titles of Infernal Affairs II, and Infernal Affairs III. One is a tired prequel that has almost none of the original cast and looks like an effort to launch boy-band heartthrobs on a movie career and the other is a hackneyed sequel with a silly premise that serves mostly as a way to get the original cast back for a pretty blatant cash-grab. Stick to the original, it’s definitely one of my favorite movies and deserves to be more widely known.

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