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PostPosted: Tue Nov 30, 2004 7:31 am    Post subject: Infernal Affairs - Reviews

'Infernal Affairs' exploresidentity in sleek style

By Ty Burr, Globe Staff | November 19, 2004

The 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller ''Infernal Affairs" arrives in Boston riding two years of hype among fans of the genre -- all of whom have doubtless long since seen the movie and its two sequels on their hacked all-region DVD players.

For everyone else, it may help to know that ''Affairs" was a box office sensation in Asia, that Martin Scorsese will start production on the inevitable American remake here in Boston next March (retitled ''The Departed," it will star Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio, with the part of the Triad criminal organization played by the Irish mob), and that the original film is itself quite possibly the best Michael Mann movie that Michael Mann never made: sleek, chic, and broodingly fatalistic.

The concept is so high you can barely make it out, at least in the opening 15 minutes. Essentially, the Hong Kong police and the Triads have had the same idea at the same time: place a young undercover mole -- a lifer -- on the other side and have him feed information back for years. So Yan (the great Tony Leung, of ''Hero" and ''In the Mood for Love") is ostensibly booted out of the police academy and works his way slowly up the rungs of criminal enterprise until he sits just below Sam (Eric Tseng), the laughing buddha of Pacific Rim drug distribution. And Ming (Andy Lau, no relation to codirector Andrew Lau but an HK film dynamo in his own right) has been sent by Sam to rise through the ranks of the police force until he is at the right hand of supervisor Wong (Anthony Wong).

And that's just the setup. The main action of ''Infernal Affairs" consists of the cops and the criminals moving forwar

in parallel lockstep, each mole trying to sabotage the other side while uncovering his opposite number at the same time. Ming is promoted to internal affairs to oversee the effort -- like Kevin Costner in ''No Way Out," his new job is to catch himself -- while Yan stalks his mirror image on the force and communicates with the supervisor by Morse code. To Ming, he's just a ghostly series of clicks.

Those who come to ''Infernal Affairs" expecting Shaw Brothers grindhouse mayhem, stylized John Woo violence, or airborne martial arts will go home disappointed: Directors Lau and Alan Mak keep things muted and tersely procedural, with spasms of gunplay serving only as punctuation. Andrew Lau also served as cinematographer, with an emphasis on blues, chrome, and glass -- crime thriller as echo chamber.

The pleasure of the film is in watching Lau and Leung play matching moles who, after a decade undercover, resemble each other more than any of their colleagues, and in keeping up with the script as it piles reflection upon reflection. Both men barely know who they themselves are anymore, or to whom their loyalty should go. Sensing his psychic distress, Ming's girlfriend, Mary (Sammi Cheng), is even writing a roman clef about a man who starts role playing the moment he wakes up. (Yan's love interest, meanwhile, is pure, goofy HK invention: a gorgeous court-ordered psychiatrist played by singing megastar Kelly Chen.)

Lau's cool yuppie mask as the undercover criminal plays effectively against Leung's earnest agony as the undercover cop, and ''Infernal Affairs" keeps curling satisfyingly about itself until Yan and Ming come face to face, whereupon a few final curveballs come flying through the screen. Unlike the two sequels, though, the original plays fair. It also ventures far enough into the politics of identity to pass for an art film. Almost by accident, Lau, Mak, Lau, and Leung seem to have backed into a Hong Kong action remake of Ingmar Bergman's ''Persona."

Ty Burr can be reached at

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 30, 2004 7:32 am    Post subject: A thrilling, high-tech cop tale

A thrilling, high-tech cop tale

November 24, 2004


Having already hijacked two American genres -- the horror film and the western (refashioned for martial arts instead of Winchesters) -- Asia is seizing another of our taken-for-granted, creatively neglected staples, the cop movie, and again shows us how relevant and entertaining it can be when given proper respect.

"Infernal Affairs" ("Wu jian dao"), which was directed by Hong Kong's Alan Mak and Andrew Lau, is the most exciting and original crime drama since Michael Mann's brilliant "Heat" in 1995.

Inevitably, "Infernal Affairs" is scheduled for a U.S. remake, but I feel safe in predicting an American version won't improve on the original. That means its appeal will be to those stubborn masses that shun movies that are subtitled or choose movies based on the popularity of the actors. Believe me, the attractive leads here -- Tony Leung Chiu-wai (often billed outside Asia as Tony Leung) and Andy Lau (a different Lau than the codirector) -- exude twice the star power any movie needs.

"Infernal Affairs" could almost get by on its set-up alone. In a prologue set at Hong Kong's police academy, we meet top-rated recruit Ming, who looks on with silent satisfaction when Yan, a rival for the brass's affection, is sent packing, seemingly disgraced for a serious but unrevealed transgression.

Cut forward a few years, and Yan is now a trusted lieutenant for excitable Triad mob boss Sam (Eric Tsang), while Ming is a police captain whose unit is devoted to bringing Sam down. But we know what these players do not: Yan's expulsion from the academy was a ruse, and he's an undercover cop who has insinuated himself into Sam's inner circle. And Ming, whose exemplary record has made him a departmental star, is on Sam's payroll, helping the crime boss stay one step ahead of cops.

In one of the most thrilling cops-and-robbers face-offs ever (rendered even more tense by the fact that the weapons are cell phones instead of automatic weapons), both sides become aware that their ranks have been infiltrated. From there, "Infernal Affairs" becomes an intricate game of Mole vs. Mole, as both Yan and Ming are ordered by their respective bosses to find the rat and exterminate with extreme prejudice.

At various moments, the hall-of-mirrors plotting becomes so labyrinthine it steps to the edge of convoluted, but the screenplay, by Mak and Felix Chong, is committed to its own internal logic and can be compared favorably to other puzzle pictures like "Memento" and "The Usual Suspects."

But even if you should lose track of who is whom or where they are and why, you will still be sucked in by the audacious set pieces that have been expertly choreographed and staged by directors Mak and Lau, who challenge convention further by spraying a bare minimum of bullets and blood. The tension is in the technology, with each side adapting electronic strategies to foil the other.

Where "Infernal Affairs" is indebted to the pre-American films of John Woo is in the careful attention paid to the psychological profiles of the primary characters, compellingly played by Leung, last seen here in director Zhang Yimou's artful and historical martial-arts drama "Hero," and Lau, soon be seen in Zhang's similarly styled "The House of Flying Daggers."

If you enjoy them in these roles, you may be pleased to know both appear in "Infernal Affairs III," a sequel, while their characters were played by younger actors in a prequel, "Infernal Affairs II," both of which have already been released in Asia.

Contact TERRY LAWSON at 313-223-4524 or
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 30, 2004 7:34 am    Post subject:

riday, November 26, 2004

Crime film walks tightrope with pulse-pounding action

A tense battle of wits between good and evil sizzles in the hands of Hong Kong director

By Tom Long / Detroit News Film Critic

Duplicity rules in "Infernal Affairs," one of the year's most electric and ingenious cops-and-criminals flicks, a tense bundle of hidden identities, close calls and tough bluffs.

A subtitled Hong Kong import that's suffered from shoddy distribution, the bad news is it's arriving in theaters with almost no fanfare; the good news is it will be out on DVD before Christmas.

Either way, if you're a fan of pulse-pounding plots and dangerous games, see it.

Chan (Tony Leung) is a cop who's been working deep undercover in a triad gang for so long he's gained access to the top powers.

Only one high-ranking official knows he's actually a cop, and it's nearly time for him to reveal himself and come back to a normal life.

Conversely, Lau (Andy Lau) is a top cop who was sent off to the police academy by the same triad, He's a gangster-funded, lifelong mole who appears squeaky clean but is wholly dirty.

Lau knows a cop has infiltrated his gang, Chan knows there's a crooked cop somewhere up the ladder steering things. But neither knows the other's identity. So they play a constant cat-and-mouse game, each trying to trip the other up, although usually it's Lau trying to expose Chan, which would mean an instant death sentence.

Written by Felix Chong and Siu Fai Mak, the film becomes a tense tennis match between the good guy and the bad guy, and each takes on just enough shades of gray to be interesting.

There's an air of resignation that hangs over Chan -- he knows he can't play this game much longer and survive. And Lau gets ever more officially indignant as his own information foils the cops.

They're both on tightropes, and it's just a question of who'll slip first.

Siu Fai Mak also co-directs with Wai Keung Lau and they bring absolutely crackling energy to the streets of Hong Kong, contrasting the primal energy of crowded streets with technology at every turn. Information is what will either kill or save both players, and cell phones are flashed like six-shooters in the wild west here, whipped out with gunslinger swiftness and wielded with deadly efficiency.

Welcome to the new world of crime.

Which resembles the old world of crime mightily, when it comes down to basics.

Betrayal, corruption, power, greed, violence -- all the familiar components of a crime story are here, just displayed with renewed vigor.

Yes, certain scenes have a cheesy, chopsocky corniness to them, but there's a sweaty sense of invention and daring in "Infernal Affairs" that puts most American product to shame.

This is what movies are supposed to feel like -- provocative, exciting, chilling, complex and fully engaging.

Take notes, Hollywood.

You can reach Tom Long at (313) 222-8879 or
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