Film Review: Infernal Affairs (2002)

Also known as: Mou gaan dou, lit. Non-Stop Way (Hong Kong)
Release Date: December 12th, 2002 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
Written by: Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Music by: Chan Kwong-wing
Cast: Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang

Media Asia Films, Basic Pictures, 101 Minutes


Up until recently, I never knew that The Departed was essentially the American remake of this film. I had heard about Infernal Affairs but had never seen it. I also haven’t seen The Departed, so I am glad that I may be one of the few Americans who actually got to see this version of the story first.

Coming out of Hong Kong, this modern crime film certainly isn’t short on action and gun violence. However, all that sort of takes a backseat to the narrative, which is quite a phenomenal tale of a man’s struggle with morality.

The story pits two men against one another. Both men are police officers and criminals. One of them, over the course of the film, has reservations about his criminal behavior and the fact that he is a member of the Triad and was actually sent in to infiltrate the Hong Kong police force. His status as a cop is a secret to even the police force, as only one cop knows his true identity. The other man is also a cop but he isn’t undercover. He is known as a cop and respected as a cop, even though he is also a mole for the Triad. Both men attach themselves to mentors on opposite sides of the coin.

The film plays out like a wonderfully composed game of chess. You never really know which direction each character will turn when push comes to shove and the ending is pretty shocking and breathtaking. Now I am not sure if The Departed shares the same ending or not. But the turn of events might not be that surprising to those who have seen that picture first.

Both characters in the film feel isolated, despite their relationships with other people and their connection to their mentors on opposite sides of the law. A lot of this is magnified by the mise en scène of the picture, as it does a great job isolating the characters on rooftops overlooking a massive world around them. The Hong Kong backdrop also showcases the modern world and the natural beauty of the old world in a lot of the same shots. The conflict of the characters against one another and against themselves is magnified by this. It is also further explored in the state of Hong Kong at the time: it being a city that just came out from under colonialism and is searching for its own independent identity.

Infernal Affairs also challenges the formula and tropes of Hong Kong cinema, as it criticizes more traditional films within the film and has a few in-jokes about cops meeting on rooftops and whatnot. It is a film that is strong in its Hong Kong roots while being heavily influenced by American cinema. It’s as if it is trying to show that it can hang with the international market and that it isn’t just another Hong Kong crime film. It feels heavily influenced by the Triad movies of John Woo while also embracing the narrative style of American mobster pictures, most notably those from Martin Scorsese. Oddly enough, it was Scorsese who made The Departed.

This is an exceptional picture, highlighted by the stupendous performances of the two leads Andy Lau and Tony Leung. Marvelously shot and directed with a strong score and beautiful cinematography that encompasses quite a large scope, Infernal Affairs is a damn good film. It is certainly one of the greatest motion pictures to ever come out of Hong Kong.

Rating: 10/10