Infernal Affairs Movie Review

A twisted pretzel of secrecy and betrayal that always seems on the verge of exploding into an inferno of gunfire, Infernal Affairs strives to be the end-all, be-all of undercover cop movies and comes so close to achieving its goal that one feels petty for registering any complaints. Instead of setting up the standard cop/criminal dichotomy, this film tries to turn genre expectations on their head, blending shades of black and white morality into a foggy gray from the get-go and undermining audiences even further with an almost comically complex plot. This is a film where you can be convinced of one thing only, that you won't know where things stand until the absolute last scene, if then - whether or not some will have mentally checked out by that point is another question.

In its clever introduction, Infernal Affairs presents a triad boss who assembles a band of kids from his gang to infiltrate the Hong Kong police academy - this is a criminal with an unusually long-range vision. Years later, the principals come into focus: there's the undercover cop, Yan (Tony Leung), struggling with his identity after so many years as a fake criminal, and the highly-placed internal affairs officer, Ming (Andy Lau), who turns out to be one of the triad moles. Throwing another loop into the plot is the fact that the triad Yan has infiltrated is the same one Ming is working for, each one knowing that there is a double agent on the opposite side (which is actually their side), whom they have been assigned by their respective bosses to root out.

Yan's been undercover so long he's going through a spiritual crisis, one that's exacerbated by the fact that only his chief, Wong (Anthony Wong), knows his real identity. It's a seamless role for Leung, his sad emotiveness always a nice relief in the overstated stylings of Hong Kong cinema; and indeed, he played an almost identical role in the ne plus ultra of this city's over-the-top film style: Hard Boiled (in which Wong also starred, but as the villain). Ming, played by Lau with a steely preciseness, is at first the less interesting character, but as the secret conflict between him and Yan heats up, Ming ultimately becomes the more intriguing and morally confused of the two. All the while, the film's bright, angular shots act as mocking counterpart to the morally blurred morass that the script has tossed these characters into.

There are volcanic emotions kept bottled up just under the surface here, with only the triad boss, Sam (Eric Tsang), ever really giving vent to his frustrations - everyone else tends to keep their upper lips stiff as they keep up their gruelingly secretive work. Some of this tension, however, is inevitably drained away as the plot wends through its occasionally inscrutable machinations that will leave more than a few audience members utterly baffled (they should hand out bread crumbs at the film's start). Although it's a relief that the filmmakers didn't feel the need to rely on bang-up action scenes, it would have been nice to see them truly wrestle with the psychological repercussions of the devilish scenario they concocted, something which never quite happens.

Infernal Affairs has proved popular - having already spawned two sequels that have yet to be released outside Asia, and also rumored to be subject of a Martin Scorsese remake - which is not surprising, as it pushes boundaries in thrilling ways while simultaneously remaining firmly rooted in genre. It's a cop movie that's constantly trying to convince you it's not just a cop movie; in other words, pulling a fast one on you just like one of its characters would.

Bonus DVD features include Chinese and English-dubbed tracks, an alternate ending, and two making-of featurettes.

Aka Wu jian dao.

Black, white, and hellish.

Cast & Crew

Director : ,

Producer :


Infernal Affairs Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2002


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