Infernal Affairs

Every once in awhile a film will take me so completely by surprise and I have to run around asking everyone I know, “Have you seen this? No? See it!”

I was expecting another ultra-violent kung fu/gangster shooter when AJM popped the Hong Kong made Infernal Affairs into the DVD player. Instead we were treated to a slick and brilliantly convoluted psychological thriller. The setup is explained in the first few minutes of the film, so I’m not giving anything away here. Two young recruits are planted as undercover spies in the enemy camp. One is a police cadet who is apparently drummed out of the academy so that he can pose as a small-time gangster and infiltrate a gang. The other is a gangster who joins the police force in order to warn his boss of any police activity that would threaten gang operations.

Fast-forward ten years and the two men are still undercover. After all this time, even they seem to be unsure of where their loyalties lie. Early on there is wonderfully entertaining confrontation that in a lesser movie would have been the big climax. The cinematography and film editing are so slick and modern that it gave me the feeling that New York City is quaint and old-fashioned compared with modern Hong Kong.

The action never lets up and yet Infernal Affairs manages to be a character-driven movie, an exploration of identity and choice. Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, not surprisingly, are big stars in Hong Kong film, and they provide depth and subtlety to their roles that elevates Infernal Affairs to the level of Pulp Fiction or The Godfather. Our sympathies lie with both men and so we are drawn into the conflict, unable to cheer for either side against the other. After all, who is the “good guy” here? the policeman who has lived a life of petty crime or the gangster who has poured his efforts into catching criminals?

Also Recommended

My initial reaction to “Infernal Affairs” was similar to my feelings for “The Usual Suspects”. If you like this kind of film you might also like these. (Just doing my part to support The Long Tail).

  • Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
  • Snatch
  • The Limey
  • Sexy Beast
  • Jackie Brown
  • Fight Club
  • Run, Lola, Run

One Response to “Infernal Affairs”

  1. jbl Responds:

    It is always a treat to read a good movie review and this was right up there with the best. I will look out for this film. Rarely see much these days so it’s a must to catch something of value.
    Sorry for the silence. Still plugging away at the masters. Just did a long essay on the Dutch Master Jan Vermeer – you know, the girl with the pearl earring. Decided NOT to see that film until I had done the paper. History is often much more rewarding than a fabricated romance…hope you are enjoying your summer. Keep the good stuff coming.

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