Infernal Affairs (2002) / Thriller-Action
aka Wu Jian Dao
Mou gaan dou

MPAA Rated: R for violence
Running time: 101 min.

Cast: Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Kelly Chen, Sammi Cheng, Edison Chen, Shawn Yue
Director: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak
Screenplay: Felix Chong, Alan Mak
Review published February 16, 2007

As much as I love Hong Kong action films, I must still admit that most directors tend to prefer style over substance, slow-motion shootouts over character development.  This is why it comes as a great surprise to find a release that goes back to the grassroots of crime action, by boiling up the tension through the characters' plights, putting everything on the line in an intricate web of deceit and misplaced loyalties.  Infernal Affairs isn't a masterpiece by any means, but at the time of its release, it stood head and shoulders above all others in its class, making it an international sensation.

Like the best of the cop/criminal movies, Infernal Affairs shows them as flip sides of the same coin.  Tony Leung plays an undercover cop who has spent the last 10 years in deep cover, with his latest assignment trying to take down the ruthless triad leader, Sam (Eric Tsang).  Meanwhile, Sam has a mole of his own in the form of Andy Lau (Fulltime Killer, Love on a Diet), who works in the unit to take down triads in the Hong Kong police force, tipping off Sam whenever they get a good lead, and keeping him out of trouble.  On their latest confrontation, it is revealed to both parties that they both have a mole, a fact which has both sides scrambling to discover the traitor before permanent damage is done. 

Andrew Lau (Dance of a Dream, Sausalito) and Alan Mak (A War Named Desire, Final Romance) do a fantastic job as co-directors, building up suspense and heating up all of the dramatic confrontations to the boiling point by the time of the climax.  It is only during this climax that the first mistakes are made, but by that point, enough points are scored to make Infernal Affairs a top-notch entry in the cop vs. gangster saga.  The performances are universally good, but Tony Leung (Hero, Ashes of Time) stands out, in yet another subtle but brilliant performance that shows why he is one of Hong Kong's finest actors working today. 

With smooth as silk direction and intelligent screenwriting, Infernal Affairs, isn't just a good Hong Kong film, but one of the better action-thriller cop films in recent years -- perhaps the best since L.A. Confidential, which this reminds me of quite a bit.  Like many successful Hong Kong productions, Hollywood has capitalized with a remake entitled The Departed, released in 2006, which would actually best this film in direction and acting, even if it falls short of the sheer plot-driven pleasure of this slick, efficient cop thriller.

-- Followed by two successful sequels, Infernal Affairs 2 and Infernal Affairs 3

Qwipster's rating:

2005 ,2007 Vince Leo