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INFERNAL AFFAIRS, 2008
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INFERNAL AFFAIRS MOVIEINFERNAL AFFAIRS, 2008
Movie Reviews

Directed by Wai-keung Lau & Alan Mak

Starring: Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang


Review by Conor Duffy


SYNOPSIS:

An undercover cop and a mole in the police force are tasked by their respective superiors to track the other down. They race to uncover each other's identity before they themselves are found out.

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REVIEW:

The movie that inspired The Departed (and, by extension, gave Martin Scorsese a long-overdue Best Director Oscar), Infernal Affairs is a whirlwind thriller following two men leading dual identities and examines the turmoil that comes with divided loyalties. Tony Leung plays Chen Wing-Tan, a police academy cadet who agrees to go deep undercover into the gang of Triad leader Hon Sam (played with devious glee by Eric Tsang.) Andy Lau is Lau Kin-Ming, tasked by Sam to go through training and become one his moles within the police force. Both men spend years leading double lives, totally unaware of the other's existence until a drug bust that raises the suspicions of the Mob and the cops.

Chen struggles to discover the police mole while trying to retain his criminal facade. His only ally is Superintendent Wong Chi-Shing (played by Anthony Wong) - also the only man who knows Chen's true role as an undercover cop. To deal with the frustration and isolation of his job, Chen regularly meets with Dr Lee Sum Yee (Kelly Chen, who holds her own in a movie dominated by strong males.) Lau, on the other hand, works as an internal affairs officer, assigned the job of uncovering the mole - in other words, to find himself. It's actually an excellent metaphor for the character's own development. He grows accustomed to the respect and admiration his status as a police officer brings him, as well as the comfortable home life afforded to him. He struggles even more so than Chen to find a happy medium between the life he plays and his true existence.

The cat and mouse games that follow hit all the right marks of a stylish modern day thriller. Both men soon discover that allies are hard to find on both sides and the person they can trust most is the one they see in the mirror. They move perilously close to one another again and again, only for fate to intervene before one can expose the other. Meanwhile their superiors offer varying levels of sympathy; Sam is concerned only with ensuring his continued freedom while Wong works to get Chen out without losing the case. The result is bloodshed on both sides and a truly nail-biting final act that climaxes atop a building that plays a significant role throughout the film.

For those who have watched Scorsese's remake, one might be surprised by how faithful that film was to the source material. As such, Infernal Affairs should feel remarkably familiar, though with an Eastern flavour that spins the film in a different direction. Andy Lau and Tony Leung are more restrained in their performances, making their emotional outbursts all the more explosive, their fear and apprehension all the more exciting. The worlds they have so carefully developed over the years are beginning to crumble and it's a race against time for either of them to make it out alive. Their characters are compelling in different ways, though Leung has more opportunity to express the rage and confusion running through his mind. Lau, by contrast, always retains a veneer of respectability in his role as the police mole, his own efforts to remain undetected requiring a cool, calm demeanour.

Both Anthony Wong and Eric Tsang are excellent support to the younger actors, and a wealth of minor characters make for a rich, engrossing cast. They are ably aided by a script written by co-director Alan Mak and Felix Chong that manages to carry the ever-winding plotlines skilfully and carefully. The pacing is excellent and never lets the story get bogged down too much. We are constantly on the move, speeding towards a bloody end just as surely as our protagonists/antagonists.

The first of a trilogy, Infernal Affairs is a vibrant, absorbing thriller, one of the best of its kind. It isn't hard to see why Scorsese was drawn to the material, nor how he assembled such a top-notch cast. Characters this compelling and interesting don't come along every day, and one only need watch both films to see how much respect the Hollywood veteran had for this remarkable piece of Hong Kong cinema. Infernal Affairs is essential viewing for anyone who says they are a fan of thrillers or crime dramas.

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