Hong Kong can execute gritty police dramas in a way that Hollywood can never get exactly right. Case in point: The Departed. A Best Picture Oscar winner from 2006, this movie was actually one of the safest choices of Martin Scorsese’s career. A traditional police procedural placed in Boston and twisted slightly to reveal a double mole situation (a cop undercover in a gang; a gangster undercover in a police station), the movie did really well but seemed to have been missing something. That something was the intensity that only Hong Kong can bring to traditional noir stories. In fact most critics pointed this out upon seeing the Departed, especially the ones that saw the original movie, Infernal Affairs.
Infernal Affairs is the exact same story, just set in modern-day Hong Kong. Chan was picked from a police academy class and chosen to go undercover as a henchman in a local gang. For ten years he has been committing crimes and inching his way up the ladder until the gangland boss trusts him enough to let him in on some secrets. Meanwhile Lau enrolls in the same police academy class as Chan and trains to be a cop. For ten years he has moved up in the ranks until he is in charge of watching the gang that he is a member of. This undercover work has all lead to this major deal that is going down with a bunch of Thai crime lords. The cops lead a bust that is mitigated by Lau’s knowledge of it beforehand. Both the Inspector and the gang lord suspect that there is a mole within the ranks and they task the real moles to find the supposed mole. This catapults the narrative into overdrive as we watch Lau and Chan get closer and closer to knowing each other’s identities while also dealing with trying to live a normal life within this messed up situation.
This movie is why I watch foreign language films. Being able to watch someone as talented as Andrew Lau (not to be confused with one of the main characters) bring such a complicated and thrilling story to life in a way that can only be done outside the Hollywood system is fascinating. Without being too overt, the movie is able to link these two men together time and again as they discover the other’s true identity. Not to mention that the cinematography is brilliant. The technique of washed out grays and popping color has been taken from this man and bastardized by not so brilliant directors.
If you are not squeamish about subtitles, I would recommend watching this movie over its Hollywoodized version.