I’m about ready to projectile vomit all over the thought of a remake of any sort. The Hollywood meat grinder continues claiming victims, and I’m practically on my knees every day, praying for a cleansing bath of originality. The good to bad ratio is very much in the shadow of the negative, as this critic’s eyes have seen. It hasn’t been all bad, though. One film given the proper respect is the tense Chinese
crime thriller Infernal Affairs.
Chen Wing Yan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) and Lau Kin Ming (Andy Lau) are both employees of the Hong Kong Police. However, these “good” guys share a common trait that makes them enemies: they’re both moles. Undercover cop Chen has been working to bust mafia boss Hon Sam (Eric Tsang), and Lau is an underling of Sam’s working to impede Chen’s efforts. The longer the cases drag on, the more intense the cat and mouse game becomes. Stakes get raised, and it comes to pass that the moles are assigned to sniff one other out.
Loyalty and honor are what we’re confronted most with in Infernal Affairs. The rigorous tests that the boys are put through and the ideas that shoved into their heads are the rules we expect them to abide by for the rest of the film. But the waters become tricky to navigate after that, and the idea of “good vs. evil” boils down to who can snitch more efficiently. Lau and Chen both exhibit behavior indicative of the ideal antihero. Chen amasses a hefty criminal record during his employ with Sam, and Lau finds himself giving away Sam’s drug ring location to the cops while trying to help establish a new one. Neither character is completely righteous in their actions, but the quest for justice remains.
The tension is absolute. Horror films wish they could do what Infernal Affairs does to us. The hunter and hunted sequences are some of the best I’ve seen in any film. Lau and Chen’s pursuit of one another is something out of The Most Dangerous Game: man against man in the asphalt jungle. But the chase doesn’t end when they’re hot on each other’s tails. The poker faces they have to hold at their homes and jobs are porcelain masks just waiting to shatter. Things like this captivate us throughout. The game is never-ending for our characters, as identity and life are the stakes, and both need to be preserved.
By now you may have realized that this Infernal Affairs sounds familiar. Perhaps you’ve seen a little Martin Scorsese flick called The Departed? This is the original version. For those who have had the pleasure of seeing Scorsese’s film, you already know that that it’s an amazing piece of work and, in a very rare instance, better than the original. What makes The Departed an improvement over Infernal Affairs? The length of Scorsese’s piece adds more to the film’s plot and characters, as well as smoothing out the one rough edge that Infernal Affairs possesses: a rushed set-up. We know that Chen and Lau had taken oaths to uphold their superiors, but details are very foggy. But once it moves on, everything’s jake, and the film becomes an hour and forty minute rush of pure adrenaline.
Infernal Affairs deserves a look even if you’ve seen The Departed. Some events differ a little, but for the most part, the films are very similar. Infernal Affairs is as gripping of a nail-biter as I’ve ever seen. It’s one of the coolest crime flicks that you will ever find.