Infernal Affair is one of my personal choices in the thriller genre and I acclaim this as my modern day classic. Its sheer pleasure revisiting this film and each time my liking for this movie has been bigger and better, with its roller-coaster action, existential cool, lustrous and sparkling visuals of Hong Kong’s city glass and steel and impending guns, so much so in a very un-similar boundary which throws you a surprise element whenever you watch it…. This scorching thriller packs a serious punch which is probably the best Hong Kong film ever. A perfect bridge cinema combines artistic and commercial tone.
Infernal Affairs released in 2002, a Hong Kong crime-thriller film directed by duo combination of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. It tells the story of a police officer who infiltrates a triad, and a police officer secretly working for the same gang. The Chinese title means “The Unceasing Path“, a reference to Avici, the lowest level of hell in Buddhism, where one endures suffering incessantly. The English title is a word play combining the law enforcement term “internal affairs” with the adjective “infernal”. Due to its commercial and critical success, Infernal Affairs was followed by a prequel, Infernal Affairs II, and a sequel, Infernal Affairs III, both released in 2003.
This film with its pre-release had popular Hong Kong & Chinese actors Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Kelly Chen and Sammi Cheng. This film received critical acclaim for its original plot and its concise and swift storytelling style. The film did exceptionally well in Hong Kong, where it was considered a box office miracle, and figured as the revival of Hong Kong cinema which at the time was considered to be lacking in creativity. Miramax Films acquired the United States distribution rights of this film and gave it a limited U.S. theatrical release in 2004. The film was selected as the Hong Kong entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 76th Academy Awards but it was not nominated.
Infernal Affairs was remade by Martin Scorsese in 2006 as The Departed, which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
The plot is full of twists and turns as ‘Infernal Affairs’ focuses on a police officer named Chan Wing-yan (Tony Leung), who goes undercover into a triad, and a triad member Lau Kin-ming (Andy Lau), who infiltrates the Hong Kong Police Force. Each mole has been planted by the rival organization to gain an advantage in intelligence over the other side. The more the moles become involved in their undercover lives, the more issues they have to cope with.
The prelude opens with the introduction of triad boss Hon Sam (Eric Tsang), who sends a number of young gangsters to the police academy as moles, among whom include a young Lau. Concurrently, a young Chan joins the police force but is seemingly expelled from the academy even though he manages to impress Superintendent Wong Chi-shing (Anthony Wong). In reality, Chan has become an undercover agent reporting only to Wong. Over the course of ten years, Chan experiences great stress from his undercover work while Lau quickly rises through the ranks in the police department. The film begins with a meeting between Chan and Lau in a hi-fi store without either of them knowing the other’s identity.
Wong and his team interrupt a deal between Hon Sam and a Thai cocaine dealer after receiving a tip-off from Chan using Morse code. However, Lau alerts Hon, giving him enough time to order his minions to dispose of the cocaine, eliminating solid evidence of the drug deal. After the incident, Wong and Hon are both aware that they each have a mole within their respective organizations, placing them in a race against time to root out the other mole. Later, Chan sees Hon conversing with Lau at a cinema but does not see Lau’s face clearly; he ultimately fails to capture Lau. By this time, both Chan and Lau are struggling with their double identities – Chan starts losing faith in him as a cop after being a gangster for ten years; Lau becomes more accustomed to the life of a police officer and he wants to erase his criminal background.
At their next meeting, Wong intends to pull Chan out of undercover work for fear of his safety. They are unaware that Lau has his subordinate, CIB Inspector B, tracking him. Meanwhile, Hon sends “Crazy” Keung (Chapman To) and other henchmen to confront them after receiving intel from Lau. Inspector B informs Lau and sends an OCTB squad to save Wong. Chan flees from the building using a crane while Wong sacrifices himself to save him by distracting Hon’s men. Wong is beaten and thrown off the roof by the gangsters. As the police close in, a shootout ensues in which several gangsters are killed. Keung drives Chan away from the scene, but later dies from a mortal gunshot wound. It is reported on the news that Keung himself was an undercover cop; Hon assumes that he was the mole and that Chan killed him to protect the triad.
Lau retrieves Wong’s cell phone and contacts Chan, with both of them agreeing to foil a drug deal by Hon. The plan succeeds and many of Hon’s men are arrested, while Lau betrays Hon and kills him. Everything seems to have returned to normal – Chan can revert to his true identity as a cop, while Lau has erased his criminal connections by eliminating Hon’s triad. However, back at police headquarters, Chan discovers that Lau was the mole and leaves immediately. Lau, realizing what has happened, erases Chan’s file from the police database. Chan spends an evening with his therapist, Dr. Lee Sum-yee, with whom he has fallen in love. He sends to Lau a compact disc with a recording that Hon kept between himself and Lau; the disc is inadvertently intercepted by Lau’s girlfriend, Mary.
Chan and Lau meet on the same rooftop where Wong was killed earlier. Chan disarms Lau without resistance and holds a gun to Lau’s head, as a rebuke to Lau’s plea for forgiveness and request to remain as a cop. Inspector B arrives on the scene shortly and orders Chan to release Lau. Chan holds Lau as a hostage at gunpoint and backs into an elevator, but upon moving his head from behind Lau he is suddenly shot in the head by B. B then reveals to Lau that he is also a mole planted by Hon. As they take the lift down to the lobby, Lau kills B out of his desire to eradicate traces of his past, become a “good guy” cop, and end the mole hunt.
The original ending climaxes with Lau identifying himself to the police as one of them. Lee discovers records revealing Chan as the undercover officer; B is blamed of being the mole within the force and the case is closed. Lau salutes Chan at his funeral, with Cheung and Lee present as well. A flashback reaffirms the point that Lau wished he had taken a different route in life. In mainland China, an alternate ending for the film was created, in which Lau exits the elevator and is informed by Cheung that the police have found evidence that he was a mole. Lau hands them his badge and is arrested without protest. The sequel, Infernal Affairs III, uses the original ending instead of the alternate one.
This DNA of this movie reminds you of undercover thrillers like Serpico, French Connection, Donnie Brasco, and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The stress and the prominence crocheted by director Andrew Lau and Alan Mak is more on uncertainty, the cat-and-mouse of maneuvering the enemy and the suspicion of not knowing who the enemy is and this internal game is chockfull of vivacious excitements, sometimes lows and sometimes the highs with grandstanding spectacle and gritty with two great action leads in Tony Leung with his leathers and moustache and that elusive smile mostly inspired from the French actor Alain Delon (Le Samourai and Le Cercle Rouge). His co-star Andy Lau is a popular martial artist and undoubtedly the face of Hong Kong’s biggest action star is amazingly sharp and stern.
So are they and all of that was yesterday. As of now it’s the most amusing de rigueur cop movie traditions ever made for years
- Directed by Andrew Lau & Alan Mak
- Produced by Andrew Lau
- Written by Alan Mak & Felix Chong
- Casting: Andy Lau & Tony Leung
- Music by Chan Kwong-wing
- Cinematography by Andrew Lau & Lai Yiu-fai
- Editing by Danny Pang & Curran Pang
- Studio: Media Asia Films & Basic Pictures
- Distributed by Media Asia Distribution & Miramax (U.S.)
- Release dates: 12 December 2002
- Run time of 101 minutes
- Country: Hong Kong
- Language: Cantonese/ Chinese