out of Five
Running time: 98
Thoroughly enjoyable thriller with superb performances, nail-biting suspense sequences and a genuinely engaging, thought-provoking script.
Thanks to an impressive distribution deal with Tartan Films, there has been a spate of decent Hong Kong thrillers getting cinema releases recently. The best of the lot, however, is Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs, starring genre staples Tony Leung and Andy Lau. A huge success overseas, it has already spawned two sequels and current internet rumour suggests Brad Pitt is in talks to star in a remake directed by Martin Scorsese (though with Scorsese’s track record, we’ll believe it when we see it).
The excellent premise is efficiently set up within the opening credits sequence. Tony Leung plays Yan, a cop who has been deep undercover with the Triads for a decade. The only man who knows his true identity is his trusted superior, Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong, regarded as ‘the Hong Kong Anthony Hopkins’).
However, after so many years, Yan also feels a certain amount of loyalty towards his mob boss Sam (Eric Tsang). To complicate matters further, Sam also has his own mole in the police department – the ambitious Ming (Andy Lau), who has risen steadily through the ranks of the police department over the past decade by busting several criminals.
As the movie opens, the cops and the Triads both realise that they each have a mole. Yan, tired of being undercover, plots to regain his true identity. Meanwhile, Ming is rewarded for his hard work with a promotion to Internal Affairs. His first assignment – to uncover the Triad mole working inside the department…
Similar To Woo’s Early Work
Infernal Affairs is similar to the early work of John Woo (particularly Hard Boiled, with which it shares a similar theme), but without resorting to slow-mo gunfights and all that rubbish with doves. In fact, there’s very little in the way of action and the most violent event of the film occurs offscreen, though its impact is felt, literally, in a shocking, unexpected manner.
Instead, Lau and Mak crank up the tension using mobile phones – there are several brilliantly-staged, nail-biting sequences involving badly-timed phonecalls, caller displays and the like.
The film has a glossy, Hollywood-thriller look to it, courtesy of “Visual Consultant” Christopher Doyle. It also has an excellent, intelligent script and one that forces you to contrast the lifestyles and morality of the two leads – which of them is doing the most good? The criminal who actually puts bad guys away as part of his job or the cop who commits crimes in order to pursue his ultimate goal?
The acting is uniformly excellent, unsurprisingly, as all four main
characters have played similar roles in several other thrillers. Leung’s performance is perhaps the strongest, as it is laced with tangible sadness – the scenes where he tries to connect with his psychiatrist (Kelly Chen as Doctor Lee) are both comical and heart-breaking at the same time. In addition, Lau brings a steely intensity to his role and both Wong and Tsang provide flashes of humour to lighten the tension occasionally.
In short, Infernal Affairs is an intelligent, thought-provoking, suspense-laden thriller that is definitely worth seeing before Hollywood remakes it. Highly recommended.