AKA: Wu jian dao
Infernal Affairs is a crime trilogy that we’ll be hearing a lot more about over the next couple of years. This, the original, was an enormous hit in its native Hong Kong, and has already spawned a prequel, with a sequel on the way. Brad Pitt has snapped up the rights to remake all three, with he and Tom Cruise mooted as the leads. Hopefully, like The Ring, the remake will encourage people to seek out the original, as it’s a lean, gripping thriller that deserves the widest possible audience.
The concept is simple, but has intricate repercussions. The police and the Triads each plant a young mole in the other’s camp, each of which rises to a position of influence over a period of years. Ming (Andy Lau) infiltrates the police, under the patronage of Triad boss Sam (Eric Tsang). Yan (Tony Leung) is the police mole in the Triads, working directly beneath Sam. The relationships are directly parallel; Ming’s boss in the police force is Yan’s mentor, as Sam is Ming’s.
After some brief, lucid exposition, we get into the story proper. The police are pursuing Sam, as his is the only gang they’ve consistently failed to catch. This is, of course, because Ming has always been able to forewarn him. As their efforts become more concerted, however, it becomes apparent to both sides that each is harbouring a mole. Both sides then focus on flushing out the spy in their ranks, a task each assigns to his most trusted officer; Ming and Yan respectively. Thus begins a gripping, deadly game of cat and mouse where each man has to eliminate the other.
Infernal Affairs is a psychological thriller, with little violence, and no martial arts. Instead we study the complex characters, and the difficult choices they face. Ming and Yan are both essentially good men, but each is haunted by his past, and increasingly confused about his own identity. The plot is consistently surprising and inevitable, a product of fine writing and a fertile premise.
Visually the film is both gritty and stylised, with its noirish colour-drained cinematography reminiscent of Se7en. The score dramatically increases the tension, veering from pounding electronica to opera. And the cast demonstrate fully why they are regarded as the cream of Hong Kong’s acting talent. Infernal Affairs is the most exciting police drama in years, and an instant classic of the genre.