July 2, 2005
Infernal Affairs (2002) is an Asian cinema fan’s dream with a powerhouse cast the features the likes of Tony Leung (Chungking Express), Andy Lau (House of Flying Daggers), Anthony Wong (Hard-Boiled), and Eric Tsang (The Accidental Spy)—all internationally famous actors together in the same movie. It’s the Asian equivalent of Michael Mann’s crime epic, Heat (1995), a star-studded thriller about men with their own personal code conflicting with one another.
A drug dealer instructs seven of his youthful charges to join the police force in order to spy on their operations from within. One of them, Yan (Leung), excels in his training and is hand-picked out of the academy to go undercover in the Triads with only his superior (Wong) aware of the operation and his true identity. Another, Lau (Lau), becomes a police officer and a mole within the force.
Eventually, the paths of the two childhood friends cross and they are forced to confront each other. It is a cat and mouse game as the crime boss (Tsang) and the police chief try to figure out who is the mole in their respective organizations. Yan and Lau’s situations only get more complicated as they become further entrenched in their organizations. Yan becomes his boss’ most trusted member and Lau is promoted to Internal Affairs. The irony is that they are both told to find the mole within their organizations.
The filmmakers certainly know how to ratchet up the tension. For example, the drug deal where Yan and Lau try to tip off their bosses about the deal going down is full of nail-biting intensity thanks to how the sequence is shot and edited. They both run the risk of being found out but manage to stay undiscovered.
Infernal Affairs is the kind of urban crime thriller that Michael Mann is known for—specifically the aforementioned Heat, which this movie resembles in some ways. Both films feature dedicated professionals on opposite sides of the law in direct opposition of one another. Infernal Affairs is also beautifully shot with particular attention paid to urban architecture and how it reflects the mood of a given character.
Tony Leung, star of countless classic Asian movies (In the Mood for Love, Hero) is his usual charismatic self as the conflicted undercover cop. He has a very natural, laid-back presence that works well in contrast to Andy Lau’s no-nonsense intensity. They make convincing and formidable adversaries a la Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Heat.
“The Making of Infernal Affairs” features the cast talking about their characters. This was a rare project in that the cast was comprised of several very famous, award-winning Asian actors working together for the first time. The cast talk at length about the differences between good and evil and how these lines blur in the movie.
“Confidential File: Behind-the-Scenes Look at Infernal Affairs” is a brief montage of on-the-set footage showing the filming of certain scenes.
There is also an “Alternate Ending” that makes the film’s conclusion a bit more explicit and changes Lau’s fate.
Finally, there are two trailers.
Infernal Affairs was a huge hit around the world, spawning two sequels. It has finally arrived in North America (officially, that is) in a limited theatrical release and now on DVD. It is an excellent, often exciting, thriller that will soon be remade here in America with Martin Scorsese behind the camera and Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon playing the leads.