Saturday, November 26, 2005

Infernal Affairs (2002)

(WU JIAN DAO) (2002)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

East Asian cinema industries appear to be booming. Japanese horror films have replaced French comedies as source of Hollywood remakes. South Korean films recently made their way to non-Korean theatres and video stores. Each new kung fu film by Zhang Yimou is eagerly anticipated by world filmophiles. On the other hand, Hong Kong cinema industry - which until very recently used to be only East Asian cinema industry relevant to Western audiences - appears to be somewhat overshadowed by those developments. The only exception is provided by authors of INFERNAL AFFAIRS, crime thriller directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. This film was turned out to be huge commercial success and two sequels on domestic markets, but also the honour of being remade in Hollywood by Martin Scorsese.

The film begins with Sam (played by Eric Tsang), Hong Kong Triad boss, gathering group of his young protégés and ordering them to enrol into Hong Kong police academy in order to become his moles within Hong Kong police. At the academy another young man is approached by Chief Superintendent Wong (played by Anthony Wong) and asked to infiltrate Triads by posing as disgraced police recruit. Years pass and former student is now hardened criminal named Yan (played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai) with nobody except Wong knowing his real status of police undercover agent. Yan has gradually earned the trust of Sam and infiltrated his organisation high enough to help Wong organise Sam's arrest during major drug deal. Unfortunately, one of top members of Wong's team is Ming (played by Andy Lau) who happens to be Sam's mole within police. He alerts Sam and the drug deal collapses, together with Wong's plan to arrest his archenemy. Now both men know that they have each other's spies within their respective organisations. Yan and Ming are both ordered to discover moles' identities.

The plot of INFERNAL AFFAIRS is based on simple idea that had enormous dramatic potentials. Screenwriters Alan Mak and Felix Chong exploited most of that potential by creating not only plenty of suspenseful moments and situations, but also by creating complex characters. Yan and Ming, each in his own way, are torn between the deep sense of loyalty and increasingly tempting option to allow their roles to become their real life. Mak and Lau as directors also recognised that this plot is attractive enough for the film to be unburdened with obligatory shootouts and action scenes. One of the most suspenseful and brilliantly directed scenes doesn't involve a single shot or an act of violence. Characters and plot are more important than cheap pyrotechnics - something that Mak and Lau remembered while doing his film while others, including John Woo in Hollywood, apparently forgot.

Unfortunately, INFERNAL AFFAIRS was burdened with at least two unnecessary subplots, each trying to make its two protagonists more human through obligatory romantic relationship. Ming is married and his wife just happens to be aspiring crime novelist, while Yan falls in love with his psychologist and gives away his secret. Both subplots add nothing other than cheap symbolism and unnecessary pathos. The unconventional ending of the film slightly improves the general impression of the film, but it is somewhat confusing.

Despite those minor flaws, INFERNAL AFFAIRS deserves recommendation. It is well-written, well-directed and well-acted genre film showing that Hong Kong cinema industry is on the way to restore past glory.

RATING: 7/10 (+++)


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