NETFLIX — Yan (Tony Leung) is a washout of the police academy recruited by a secret task force within the police department to keep tabs on major crime from within. Lau (Andy Lau) is a street thug sent by his gang leader to join the police force and keep feed him information from within. Both men climb the ranks, but as they become more successful at their job, their identities of and loyalties begin to come into question. Who is the villain, and who is the hero? Such are the questions asked in INFERNAL AFFAIRS!
I first learned of INFERNAL AFFAIRS upon the release of Martin Scorsese’s South Boston crime epic, THE DEPARTED. I had heard that it was “based” on this insanely awesome Chinese crime thriller, but I was unaware that it was a literal beat-for-beat remake. This realization left me feeling colder to INFERNAL than I would have liked, considering the story, regardless of its origin, is a fantastic one.
The film itself is wonderful. The lead actors, Leung and Lau, are fantastic bookends to this grisly world of cat-and-mouse between crime lords and police inspectors, with Yan and Lau trapped right in the middle.
INFERNAL, as well as THE DEPARTED, forces the audience to question what their own personal limits are for success, and at what point does someone take responsibility for what they’re being asked to do, despite how young they were when they started. These questions, plus the toll living a lie for so many years takes on the psyche, are by far the most interesting and entertaining aspects of this film, much like they were in THE DEPARTED.
I’m doing my best not to compare this film too much to THE DEPARTED, which is virtually impossible at this point. Since I will go ahead and admit that I very much enjoyed this movie, here are a few things that stood out to me that prevented me from really loving it like its Western predecessor…
- Less emphasis on developing supporting characters – INFERNAL is clearly all about its leads and what they’re going through. Considering the shorter runtime, this is probably a good thing, though it really keeps the world from feeling really fleshed out and lived in. The few henchmen conversations about how to spot a cop was fun, but didn’t really give us anything of the characters to make us care about them.
- Unusually light and silly score during tender moments – perhaps you can chock this up to cultural differences, but during the more tender scenes between Lau and his fiance, or Yan and his psychiatrist, there would be the explosions of poppy melody that just doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film, and completely took me out of the experience.
- Artsy fartsy flourishes – I can appreciate directors influencing certain shots and beats of a film with their personal style, so long as it fits with the rest of the visual story that’s being told. However, when there is a noticeable visual gear change, it’s jarring and hinders the experience. While I can’t go into specifics without ruining key points of the film, I will say that suddenly flashes to black, slow motion, and overly sentimental music are surefire ways to undercut the intended gravity of a dramatic scene. Just let it play out, man. What’s wrong with that?
- The ending!
I could probably write another couple of paragraphs about the ending, what it means, and why THE DEPARTED definitely got it right over INFERNAL. That said, INFERNAL is a trilogy, not a one-off like DEPARTED, so I suppose I should reserve judgement until I see the sequels. Still, the ending left me cold, as it felt like where there should have been a definitive ending, it was actually only the beginning… which somehow rendered everything that came before it pointless for me.
I know it’s strange to say that I really liked this movie, given all these complaints I have with the story, but where my conflict lies is, I don’t know that I would have most of these issues if I hadn’t seen THE DEPARTED first. Given that, I feel it would be unfair to outright dismiss INFERNAL, and I wouldn’t do that anyway, because I did genuinely enjoy the film–pretty much solely on the performances of its two leads.
Ultimately the tragedy here is that, I believe both INFERNAL AFFAIRS and THE DEPARTED to both be excellent films. Which film you hold in higher esteem is likely due to which one you saw first. And it’s pretty much impossible to recommend one over the other, because the most impactful events of the story happen in both.
Either way, see it if you haven’t! See it, and then tweet me and tell me what you thought, so we can talk about it, because my wife doesn’t like talking about movies, and I need someone to gab with about this one! You can leave a comment too, but tweeting is more fun.