Director: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
Starring: Tony Leung, Andy Lau
I finally saw it! Infernal Affairs is a film that's been on my "to see" list for... uh, ever and now I've finally seen it. And now for some sacrilege: I liked the American remake better. Perhaps given the prestige of The Departed that's not so horrible, but given how fiercely I tend to dislike the idea of English-language remakes of foreign films, it feels a little strange to admit. Anyway...
As with The Departed, Infernal Affairs is about two men. One is Lau (Andy Lau), a police officer who is really a mole for a gangster named Sam (Eric Tsang Chi-Wai). The other is Yan (Tony Leung), a cop working undercover to take down Sam's gang from the inside. Yan has been undercover for 10 years, so long that there remains only one person in the department - Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) - who knows his true identity; so long that sometimes he feels more like a criminal than a cop.
Sam knows that there is a spy in his organization and the police come to realize that there is one within their ranks as well. In a fortuitous turn of events, Lau is promoted to Interal Affairs and given the task of finding the double agent. The promotion, along with the continued pressure from Sam to find the rat, makes him increasingly desperate to end his double life. As the war between the police and the gang escalates, he gets his chance to choose a side - but only if he can keep Yan from discovering the truth and blowing his cover.
Many plot points, and indeed scenes, were carried over when Infernal Affairs was adapted as The Departed, though the two films are ultimately fairly different. The original doesn't have quite the same level of urgency that Scorsese gave the remake and it occasionally slips into melodrama (mostly due to the score whenever there's a death scene/flashback montage), but there are things that I think Infernal Affairs actually does better. One of those things is that it doesn't feature a shared love interest for the two protagonists, opting instead for a love interest for each. On the one hand this means that there isn't really room for a major female role in the story (this one being about an hour shorter than the remake), but on the other hand I found it a little too coincidental that the two characters in The Departed, in addition to all the other ways their lives were intersecting, would also find themselves involved with the same woman.
The film also does a wonderful job at building tension for the scenes of cat-and-mouse where Yan and Lau try to carry out their official duties while at the same time trying to keep their unofficial bosses apprised of what's going on. As the two divided men, Leung and Lau are excellent, their layered and very well-tuned performances help give the film a feeling of robustness despite its lean running time. All in all, Infernal Affairs is a solid and engrossing film, I just didn't find that it reached the transcendence of The Departed.