Infernal Affairs

This film moves sleekly through its many plot twists and steps gingerly over plot holes like a parade of high profile fashion models on the catwalk. It moves gracefully with an occasional dramatic stop and seductive turn that never really allows you to think about it too deeply – it just looks good and feels even better. It is a film for grownups too – the four main stars are all veteran actors that allow you to sit back and watch how real actors go about their work. It is a pleasure. It is glossy, it is smooth and in truth this partly blinds you to the script implausibilities that surround the story – it is to some degree a plot built on sand. This is what makes it rather odd that Hollywood purchased the remake rights – which basically comes down to a concept that is more than a little farfetched.
Director Andrew Lau along with co-director Alan Mak tread into territory that has largely been reserved by Johnnie To – a suspenseful noir like intrigue between cops and triads – and they do it with enough flash and grit to make To proud. This is a quickly paced cat and mouse game between strong personalities on both sides of the law – but it is more along the lines of the commercially viable Running Out of Time than the morose dark The Longest Nite. From the ultimate schlockmeister of such glitz as Sausalito, A Man Called Hero and Legend of Speed, this is a welcome surprise. He still brings along his slick style and cinematic eye – but he finally makes a film in which the characters seem real, conflicted and with shades of colors rather than comic book personalities.
Anthony Wong recruits a police trainee (Shawn Yu as a young man and Tony Leung Chiu-wai as an adult) and instructs him to infiltrate the triads as a mole. At nearly the same time the head of one of the triad gangs, Eric Tsang in blonde bullet head form, has a young triad wannabe (Edison Chen as a young man and Andy Lau as an adult) join the police force. Over the next number of years the two bosses stand back and watch their man gain a measure of success and rise in the power structure. Lau has become the right hand man to Anthony Wong and Leung one of Tsang’s top lieutenants – a bit contrived no doubt but necessary for what takes place next.
During a chess like move/counter move police operation to catch Tsang’s gang red handed with a cache of drugs, it becomes apparent to both groups that the other has a mole buried within. It now becomes a frantic race to see who can identify the mole first and at the same time protect their own man. Both Leung and Lau coolly go about this knowing that if they lose this game the likely outcome will be death or imprisonment. Both actors give very solid performances – Lau sleek as always with a determined hard edged intensity, while Leung is a bit easier going on the outside with a sympathetic streak, but still tough as nails inside.
What binds the two men is a hatred for the double lives they have been forced into and a pained need to escape it. Excellent support comes from Wong and Tsang – these two manage to make their smaller roles quite memorable. Not really so for Kelly Chan and Sammi Cheng – their minor roles really serve little purpose besides giving the protagonists a softer side and giving the film some marquee pizzazz.
The film breezes by quickly and engages the viewer from the start to the intriguing finish and even with some fuzzy scriptwriting it is very satisfying. Though a cop and triad drama, it contains very little action and is primarily a character study – a battle of wills and wits that someone has to lose – and the viewer is put in the uncomfortable predicament of not really wanting either of them to lose this game.

My rating for this film: 8.0