Story: Ming (Andy Lau) is working for gangster boss Sam (Eric Tsang). Because Ming has still a clean slate, Sam
sends him to a police academy, so that he can operate as a mole for Sam. The police on the other hand gives young
police officer Yan (Tony Leung) the order to work as an undercover cop in a triad organisation for them to be able
to destroy the triads from within.
Ten years later: Ming is working on his career, but has already achieved a lot, being a notable investigator, now. Yan, however, has only SP Wong (Anthony Wong) as a contact person left, no one else knows about his secret task. Meanwhile, Yan is working under Sam, who is now a triad boss himself, and is occupied by collecting information about an upcoming big drug deal and handing everything he gets to Wong.
Sam's drug deal becomes a dangerous game, as Yan tries to keep the police posted about what's going on, while Ming is informing his boss Sam about the police's progress.
Neither the police, nor the triads can win this war, while they have a mole among them. However, the police promotes Ming, of all people, and makes him a member of the bureau for internal affairs. He is supposed to find the spy among them. Anyway, Yan is also hot on Ming's heels and he has to be extra careful doing so, because Sam tries by all means to track down the mole in his organisation. Between Yan and Ming a deadly chase begins...
Review: "Infernal Affairs" marks the comeback of profound and thrilling Hong Kong cinema. Beforehand, there was
already a lot to read about the movie and even though there was never a really poor review about the movie, there
were also some (minor) average ones among them. Accordingly, my expectations were rather ambivalent. However, in the
end the movie just blew me away! It's really rare that you get to see such a tense, clever thriller, which is so
captivating that at times you will forget to munch on your popcorn.
In a world in which good and evil isn't easy to keep apart, and where the protagonists are playing a fantastic game of cat and mouse, directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak create an incredible tense atmosphere that easily gets along without any real action, and yet is breathtakingly thrilling.
The most important thing in a gripping thriller is a well-written script, and luckily Felix Chong and Alan Mak were quite aware of that fact when they wrote the story. The first few minutes introduce us to the life of the two main protagonists until the present time in form of a small fast-cut rundown of events. Here, you can already see the great pacing with which the movie progresses, so that there is never even one second of boredom. However, this also demands all of your attention, because if you are distracted by anything else than the movie itself then you most likely will miss something essential. Especially well done are the parallels between Ming and Yan. Their lives also stand in contrast, as we see Ming moving in with his long-term girlfriend, while Yan on the other hand has nearly no private life at all, merely being able to build up a little romance with his "psychiatrist".
The brilliant thing about the story manifests rather soon, that is when the drug trade between the Thai and Sam gets under way. Yan is keeping his boss informed by sending morse signals about the actual situation, while Ming has to come up with quite a lot to warn Sam of the police. Actually, there isn't really that much happening, there is almost no action, and yet this scene is maybe one of the most thrilling ones in whole Hong Kong cinema. The movie's theme about moles in opposing groups and the need to discover them is made use of with every trick and with every detail and twist there is. Thanks to fast and very good cuts, an absolutely fitting soundtrack and a clever script, the film builds up a constantly high pacing that will get you out of breath on more than one occasion.
The movie cast reads like the "who is who" of Hong Kong. Tony Leung does give the best performance, naturally. As the undercover cop, who has no real life, he almost has become a shadow of his former self, being forced for already ten years to pretend that he is someone he never was or is, and he is surely going to be broken by it if he has to continue. Nonetheless, he somehow managed to keep his heart in the right place, clearly making him the "good" guy in the movie. Facing him is Andy Lau, who embodies Ming. He only seems to be interested in his own profit and he has to play so many roles, that he is merely a shallow shell. This is fantastically pointed out by Ming's girlfriend Mary, played by Sammi Cheng, who tells Ming about a character in her novel she is writing, who is taking on so many different roles, that someday he himself doesn't know anymore who he really is. Of course, that's exactly the case with Ming, and thus he sadly remains a little bit mysterious for a while. Mary just hits the nail right on the head when she says that she can't finish her novel, because she doesn't know if the "hero" is a good or a bad person. Ming is both and it takes until the end, that we finally get to know which side he chooses.
Apart from these two masters of their craft, there are also stars like Eric Tsang as the triad boss, Chapman To as a gang member or acting god Anthony Wong as SP Wong to be found in this all-star movie. No wonder, that the movie manages to build up such a high intensity, when it is backed up by such names. However, there are also some smaller roles given to the likes of Edison Chen as young Ming, Sammi Cheng as Ming's girlfriend or Kelly Chen as Dr. Yee, who aren't no-names themselves. Yet, they all fall a bit too short, which is the more apparent in the little romance between Yee and Yan of which one would have liked to see more. Nonetheless, everyone is making good use of his little on-screen time and delivers more than just a cheap cameo-appearance.
The cinematography of the film is amazingly well and gives the movie its own distinct flair, that was going to be copied by a lot of directors later on in an attempt to reach the same quality level. In mainly bluish or sometimes greenish pictures the film also convinces in an aesthetic way. Which is no surprise, because the makers had the support of no one else than Christopher Doyle.
Besides, there are some really nice shots. Especially, the "freeze frames", in which the camera is moving from one side of the scene to the other while no one budges, is really stylish without feeling artificial. By handing us explanations of certain scenes afterwards in form of short black-and-white pictures, and the great soundtrack of Chan Kwong Wing which even intensifies the atmosphere, the movie absolutely knows how to please its audience. The music can really add to the tension of certain key scenes and the more emotional moments are also accompanied by very fitting motifs.
If you don't pay full attention when watching "Infernal Affairs" you might miss some explanations, which are seamlessly inserted into the film. Or maybe you'll just miss some of the hints, e.g. that Yan supposedly has a little daughter. The attentive viewer will be rewarded with some great scenes.
Absolutely ingenious and emotionally captivating is the ending. There is also a more political correct ending for mainland China, which however should be avoided by any movie-fan, because it offers nothing of the greatness the Hong Kong ending does.
Is anyone surprised to hear that such a clever thriller, which leaves nothing to be wished for anymore, has already drawn the attention of Hollywood to it, which actually made a remake of it? By the name "The Departed" at least Martin Scorsese directed an american version of it for all those who are incable or unwilling for whatever reasons to just watch the original.
A tricky/clever story, great actors, an incredible tense atmosphere and thrill that will make your heart beat run wild, make this movie the best that has come out of Hong Kong for quite some time.
"Infernal Affairs" is a materpiece among thrillers that no one should miss!