DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
INFERNAL AFFAIRS (WU JIAN DAO) (director: Andrew Lau/Alan Mak; screenwriters: Felix Chong/Alan Mak; cinematographers: Andrew Lau/Lai Yiu Fai; editors: Ching Hei Pang/Danny Pang; music: Chan Kwong Wing; cast: Andy Lau (Ming Lau), Tony Leung (Yan), Anthony Wong (Supt. Wong), Eric Tsang (Sam), Chapman To (Keung), Ng Ting-yip (Insp. Cheung), Sammi Cheng (Mary), Kelly Chen (Dr. Lee Sum-yee), Edison Chen (Young Ming), Shawn Yu (Young Yan); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Andrew Lau; Miramax Films; 2002-Hong Kong-in Cantonese with English subtitles)

 
"More reasonably plotted than most films of the action genre."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Infernal Affairs is a Hong Kong crime thriller co-directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak; the screenplay is by Felix Chong and Alan Mak. It opens as triad drug lord Sam (Eric Tsang) gives a speech initiating his young recruits into the organization, where he boasts how he managed to stay alive by infiltrating the police force with moles. The film's title refers to a Buddhist sutra proclaiming, "The worst of the Eight Hells is Continuous Hell — continuous suffering." Continuous suffering might also be watching so many HK action films with the same tired theme of cops-vs-triads (at least ever since 1980 and Alex Cheung's Man on the Brink), though this one is less bloody, has fewer gunfights and is more reasonably plotted than most films of the action genre. 

Ming Lau (Andy Lau, no relation to the director) enters the police academy, where he goes to the head of the class hiding the fact that he's on Sam's payroll. Meanwhile his police academy cadet classmate, Yan (Tony Leung), is drummed out of the police force as unfit. But Yan was secretly recruited by Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong) to be an undercover operative. 

After ten years of work as an undercover agent, only SP Wong is still alive who knows Yan is really a cop and so successful in his mission--though suffering greatly in his personal life. Yan in the last three years has worked himself up to be Sam's most trusted man. When he spots a drug delivery coming in by a Thai gang, he reports directly to SP Wong. But the cocaine deal gets botched when Sam has a mole in Wong's elite command force who is able to warn the gang in time of the police presence. 

The film shows how the pressure is getting to both moles, and how their real identity is becoming twisted in psychological knots. Yan is seeing a shrink (Kelly Chen) he falls in love with and tells her his secret that he's really a good guy--a cop. Ming's girlfriend Mary is a writer, whose latest novel is about a man with "28 personalities." They stock their mod apartment with the latest in electronics, but their happiness is blurred because something is eating away at Ming. Mary wonders out loud if her man is having an identity crisis over whether he's a good or bad guy.

The film lifts much of its style and storyline from both Michael Mann's Heat and John Woo’s Hard Boiled. Things come to a head when the two mole’s lives suddenly interconnect when their respective bosses ironically single them out to get the other's mole - which eventually leads to tragic consequences as they match wits. 

The intricate plotted story has a few surprises, is well acted and photographed, but the characters were still too distant to know with any intimacy or really care what happens to them.

REVIEWED ON 12/19/2004        GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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