Infernal Affairs

Year 2002

Andy Lau as  Inspector Lau Kin Ming  
Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Chen Wing Yan
Anthony Wong Chau-Sang   as SP Wong Chi Shing
Eric Tsang as Hon Sam
Chapman To as Tsui Wai-keung
Directors - Wai-keung Lau
  - Alan Mak Siu Fai
Screenwriters - Alan Mak Siu Fai
  - Felix Chong

Infernal Affairs by Hong Kong directors Wai-keung Lau and Alan Mak Siu Fai is a polished piece of work. Too many times, there's a simplicity in foreign films that stereotypes them. Heck, even Ringu, which is the basis for The Ring was pretty pedestrian and not much better than an episode of the The X-Files. But Infernal Affairs is something different. And the difference is good.

I watched the movie with the voices dubbed. I was lazy, in other words, and didn't feel like reading my movie. That meant that some of the deliveries lastest longer than people's mouths moved and the inflection of the voice actors didn't always match the facial expressions of the characters. The out of synch moments were rare enough to not detract too much.

The movie was remade by Martin Scorcese as The Departed which won the best picture Oscar for 2007. I've seen both, and I prefer this version.

If you don't know the plot, it's this. Two recruits attend the Police Academy at the same time. One of them is drummed out and the other graduates. The failure is actually a success and he goes undercover to infiltrate the local mob. The other rises in rank in the police force but is actually working as a mob informer. At one point, each must discover the identity of the other or else. That's the crux of this movie.

This movie is nicely nuanced. Chen Wing Yan (Wai) is the undercover cop. He looks the part and manages to combine pathos with his dedication. Inspector Lau Kin Ming (Lau) is the police mole and does nearly as good a job in his role. He's supposed to be a little colder than Yan, and his is just a little colder. All around good acting by everyone in the movie.

Back to the nuancing. Peripheral characters, absent from The Departed, are integral to subtleties in Infernal Affairs. Yan runs across an old girlfriend. He hasn't seen her in six years and she's married now and has a daughter. She tells Yan that the daughter is five years old. After Yan leaves, the daughter reminds her mother that she's six. It's a slick understated way of demonstrating that Yan even gave up a daughter to go undercover. That his ex-girlfriend is hiding it from him has even deeper aspects. Nice stuff.

Then there's the plot device to determine if Ming is good or bad. His girlfriend is writing a novel and the main character has twenty-eight personalities. Her invention doesn't know who he is from the time he wakes up until he goes to sleep. She keeps asking, "Is he good or is he bad?" After one revelation, she's still asking the question but she's asking it about Ming.

The Departed never got to that point. The characters in that movie were defined by their jobs and not by their whole lives.

It's not a great movie, though. Ming's character, albeit morally confused, can kill with impunity. Sometimes, it just doesn't fit. Why was Hon Sam sacrificed? To further a career? Maybe it's because the organization of the Triad wasn't properly fleshed out. Maybe Hon Sam was expendable with regard to the Triad as a whole. I didn't get it then and after thinking about it, I still don't know.

It's a movie worth watching. It's complex without being over the top labyrinthine. The acting is great and the choice of shots by the directors keeps things moving.

Oh, there's one other scene worth mentioning. It's the death of Crazy Keung. Because he's a little slow on the up-take, Keung keeps Yan's secret for the wrong reasons. Yan then uses Keung's death to advance himself within the Triad and in the process destroys Keung's legacy. Again it's a subtle take on who's good and who's bad.

No wonder Yan needs therapy. He meets with his shrink once a week. There's no explanation as to why. Is it something that the police department is telling him to do? It's implied but never stated. He sleeps during the sessions and doesn't even realize that his therapist is a police officer until he's near the end of his scheduled visits. So that aspect is unclear.

On a personal note, and since I like trivia, there's a scene where people are riding in an elevator. If you look at the floor numbers as they increase, you'll notice that the number "4" is skipped. The Chinese are very superstitious and the number four is considered unlucky. It means death. Like some buildings in the United States have no floor thirteen, some buildings in China and Hong Kong (which is part of China but nearly autonomous) skip floor number four. In China, one hotel skips floors seven, thirteen, and fourteen but has a fourth floor. Seven means anger and ghosts, so I guess that makes sense. Thirteen is one plus three which is four, so I guess it makes reaching sense. Fourteen is the unluckiest of the unlucky numbers because it consists of a "1" which means "certain" and a "4" which means "death".

Lucky numbers include "8". If you want a telephone number with that number in it, you have to pay extra. Really.

Some final thoughts on the movie. The ending is not expected, but it's plausible. It's not really satisfying, but it's acceptable and makes you think.

No nudity or blasphemy. Maybe some chick flick potential. If you liked The Departed, then you'll really like Infernal Affairs.

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