Finally I have worked my way back to one of the original films. What makes this one somewhat unique is that I actually saw it at the cinema. Which makes my recent re-watch rather interesting, as I was rather ignorant of any Asian cinema outside of Japan at the time I saw this – and had no idea about the array of talent I saw on display – but still I enjoyed it very much.
“Infernal Affairs” stars many of this blogs favourite stars – Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Shawn Yue and Edison Chen, all of whom have been the subject of much praise from me recently. Most shocking of all – I did not even recognise Tony Leung from this film in all the other films of his and his performances that I have adored.
The plot is simple. Crime Boss Sam (Tsang) places a number of his young gangsters in Police training school to act as moles. The star of this scheme is Ming (Lau, with Chen briefly playing the younger version). Contemporaneously, Police Chief Wong (Wong) places his own mole, Yan (Leung, with Chen as the younger version)) in deep cover amongst Sam’s organisation. Years later these long term plans come to fruition when both sets of moles struggle to find out the traitor in the “own” camp.
Many of you will know the American remake of this film, “The Departed”, which in my opinion is probably one of the finest examples of a Western remake. It took the film, not just the core idea, but also the rather downbeat ending, and expanded upon it, making it thoroughly enjoyable in its own right.
There is so much to enjoy here – whether it be the tension filled set pieces, the stellar performance of Leung as the tortured Yan, the shocking fate of Wong (and the fallout from this), and the quieter moments such as the almost friendly conversations over Chinese food between Wong and Tsang.
And of course we have the ending, which is both brave yet the only sensible way to go – it justifies the rest of the film. There is an alternative ending, made for the mainland Chinese market, which should be avoided at all costs, as to my mind it just misses the point.
It is not perfect, but then what is? I have mixed feelings about Lau’s character – I always find the actor a little too shifty looking, maybe he is just too suspicious. Many reviewers have called the film a little soulless, possibly too much style over any real substance, and I think there is merit to these views. The concept is what is compelling, and only Leung’s storyline holds real emotional impact.
The film made a lot of money, is one of those movies which did rather well internationally and had a very successful American remake – and it is often criticised somewhat unfairly because of this.
For me though, this is what makes the film important. It is not a truly great film, not one that I am going to return to over and over, but it is a seriously GOOD film.
And sometimes, well, isn’t that what we need?