Starring: Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong
Director: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
Running Time: 101 mins
Infernal Affairs is a Hong Kong film about two men, a gang member who infiltrates the higher rankings of the police, and a police officer who infiltrates the same gang, as they attempt to expose one another’s identities.
You’ll likely be aware of Martin Scorsese’s Best Picture-winning thriller The Departed. Infernal Affairs is the film that inspired that movie, and is pretty much a must-watch for any fans of Scorsese’s hit. Of course, although it tells pretty much the same story, Infernal Affairs is a completely different animal, with a lively vibe that ties in nicely with that thrilling plot, complete with eye-catching directing and two great performances that make the film a thoroughly entertaining watch throughout.
Let’s start with what really sets Infernal Affairs apart from The Departed, and that’s the style in which directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak shoot the movie. While Scorsese’s is a gritty crime thriller through and through, Infernal Affairs combines elements of a gritty crime underworld with more of the MTV sensibilities of the early 2000s, making it a more colourful and visually vibrant watch that switches wildly between neon lights, drab sepia tones, and bright blue skies.
In that, the film has somewhat of a more fun-loving vibe than those who’ve seen The Departed would expect. As a result, Infernal Affairs proves itself as a fully entertaining thriller that’s not afraid to relax a bit with some good humour here and there, as well as that kaleidoscopic cinematography that gives it such a vibrant atmosphere right the way through.
Another plus comes in the form of the story itself, which is riveting to watch (even if you have seen The Departed). Firstly, not everything is exactly the same as the Hollywood remake, and there are surprises to be had throughout, but it’s the fact that the story is so dynamic and cleverly composed that’s the biggest positive.
Bear in mind that Infernal Affairs is the original film, and as such deserves more of the credit for screenplay originality, something that’s highly deserved given just how exciting and intelligently written the story is throughout, as we see two moles in one another’s backyards brutally trying to sniff one another out, all the while doing everything possible to evade capture in the midst of a world of gangs and violence that’s reaching boiling point.
It’s a fascinating film to watch throughout, and many of the film’s main story points are just as (if not more) impressive than how The Departed handles them, although the case for Scorsese’s film comes in its longer runtime and somewhat deeper development of the characters and setting.
And that’s perhaps where I felt that Infernal Affairs fell down somewhat. While it’s a very likable film that’s also got some really exciting twists and turns, I didn’t feel it was the most substantial piece of work, failing to really stand out in its character development as we see the lives of both Tony Leung and Andy Lau’s characters going through a tumultuous period, and as such taking away from some of the deeper tension that Scorsese proves is there in The Departed.
It’s harsh to judge a film like this in hindsight, but the fact remains that there isn’t quite enough depth to Infernal Affairs to make it a real edge-of-your-seat watch. Its fast pace, exciting story and vibrant atmosphere make it lively and entertaining, but it’s not the sort of movie that will have your heart beating out of your chest at any moment. Still, it’s a great watch throughout, and one that’s definitely worthwhile for any fans of the crime and thriller genres, as well as a stylish piece that really paints Hong Kong in vibrant fashion, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7 overall.