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Review: Infernal Affairs, Hong Kong Movie

(vs Hollywood Do Over)

By Michelle Strozykowski

A review of Hong Kong film Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs), starring Tony Leung and Andy Lau. Oscar winning Scorsese film The Departed was adapted from this film.
  • Infernal Affairs vs The Departed

Infernal Affairs was the 2002 movie Martin Scorsese re-made as The Departed in 2006. The original Hong Kong film was co-directed by prolific film-maker/cinematographer Andrew Lau and screenwriter Alan Mak. It smashed box office records and won dozens of awards in Hong Kong before going on to successfully reach a global audience. The film was such a huge hit it spawned two follow ups, a prequel and a sequel.

  • Starring Tony Leung and Andy Lau

Infernal Affairs is a taut, gripping thriller starring the cream of Hong Kong cinema. It follows the intertwining lives of Chan Wing Yan (played by Tony Leung who went on to star in hits Hero and Lust Caution) and Lau Kin Ming (played by Andy Lau who went on to star in hit House of Flying Daggers). Yan is an undercover cop who has infiltrated a triad gang. Ming is a member of the triads who is hiding his true identity to infiltrate and quickly rise up the ranks of the police force. The parallel lives of these two rival characters, helplessly pitted against one another, both ratchets up the tension and becomes a source of acute, emotive human drama.

  • The Story and the Similarities to The Departed

The film opens with triad boss Sam (Eric Tsang) selecting young gang members to send into the police force, where they will act as his anonymous eyes and ears. In the training academy montage that follows Yan's character is introduced. He is quickly identified as unsuitable for the force, and very publicly expelled in front of all the other cadets; but this is just a cover story. Superintendent Wong Chi Shing (Anthony Wong) has already picked him out as the ideal candidate for his undercover operation. From this point on Yan is planted in the criminal underworld. Superintendent Shing is his contact and the only person in the police force who knows Yan's true identity (as one of the good guys!).

Infernal Affairs continues tracking the myriad difficulties experienced by both Yan and Ming as they attempt to seamlessly blend in to their respective alien worlds. The pressure is piled on as the triad gang and the police department both realise they have moles in their midst, and attempt to flush them out. Although they work for opposite sides, Yan and Ming have a shared understanding of each other's gravely precarious situations. The underlying subtleties begin to suggest that they are more similar than they are different, and indeed their situations are almost interchangeable.

In Scorsese's adaptation The Departed these similarities are further highlighted by casting actors (Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio) who bear a close resemblance to each other, and having them both (somewhat unbelievably) get involved with the same woman. This doesn't happen in Infernal Affairs, but it is easy to see why Scorsese made this choice. Infernal Affairs instead includes a unnecessary sub-plot about Yan's ex, which is totally extraneous to the main story. There's also an un-developed suggestion of a love story between Yan and a therapist. It's easy to see that Scorsese simply took the therapist character and Ming's girlfriend Mary and made them into one character for The Departed.

  • Worth Watching?

Infernal Affairs does have its problems. The film is confusing in parts, especially to begin with when there's an awful lot of information thrown at the audience. This can be hard to digest, especially via subtitles. It also doesn't help that the main characters are played by completely different actors in their youth. That necessitates a bit of unravelling to stay on track. However it is well worth persevering with Infernal Affairs. As the narrative progresses it gets much easier to follow, and draws viewers in to an intricately realised world. If you happen to have already enjoyed The Departed you will have a good idea of what is going on anyway. Scorsese made a fine film from the bones of Infernal Affairs; but there are some major differences between the two films. Prior knowledge is not necessary to enjoy either one, but fans of The Departed are certain to find their viewing experience enhanced by watching the Hong Kong original.