Thursday, May 17, 2012

#640. Infernal Affairs (2002)

Directed By: Wai-Keung Lau, Alan Mak

Starring: Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang

Tag line: "Loyalty. Honor. Betrayal"

Trivia:  When referencing this film as the inspiration for the Best Picture-winning The Departed, the announcer at the 79th Academy Awards mistakenly identified the Hong Kong production as Japanese

Infernal Affairs, a well-told tale of corruption and intrigue on the streets of Hong Kong, was the inspiration behind Martin Scorsese's 2006 Oscar-winning film, The Departed. Two men; a cop posing as a criminal and a criminal posing as a cop, have spent years living a lie, pretending to be someone they aren't in order to carry out their missions.

Yan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) is a policeman who’s been working undercover for the better part of a decade, posing as a member of a Hong Kong criminal organization under the control of the treacherous Sam (Eric Tsang), and gathering as much information as he can on their activities. Lau (Tony Lau), a longtime member of said organization, has, in turn, infiltrated the Hong Kong police department, rising through the ranks to become a trusted leader on the force. Before long, the two learn of each others existence, and the race is on to see which will be the first to uncover the traitor in their midst.

Both Yan and Lau have accepted dangerous jobs in the line of what they see as their duty, subsequently putting not only their lives in jeopardy, but their identities as well, which are slowly disappearing as they get deeper into their respective roles. At one point, Yan is reprimanded by his superior, Lt. Wong (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang), for being arrested three times for assault. He orders Yan to visit the Departmental psychiatrist, Dr. Lee (Kelly Chen), and accuses him of becoming “much too involved” in his role as a criminal. “Have you forgotten that you’re a cop?” Wong asks, at which point Yan reminds him his undercover assignment was supposed to last for three years. That was ten years ago. Yan’s learned a major drug deal is about to go down, and Lt. Wong expects him to provide info on its whereabouts. But Yan is growing restless, and his attitude shows it. Lau, on the other hand, has been a model cop for years. He’s engaged to be married to the beautiful Mary (Sammi Cheng), and knows how to manipulate the law to his full advantage. He even manages to coerce vital information out of a suspect by pretending to be the man’s lawyer. Yet when he’s selected as part of the team that will break up the drug deal, he immediately goes to work for his real “boss”, tipping Sam off that the cops are onto him. It’s a precarious situation for both men, one that becomes nearly unbearable when each side starts looking for the double-agent within their ranks.

Infernal Affairs is a film defined by the tension it creates. The sequence in which both Yan and Lau work the drug deal, each betraying the side that has trusted them for years, is incredibly nerve-wracking. There are many other scenes equally as intense, where either might be found out at any moment, and it keeps us riveted. We sit and wonder who will be the first to fold under the strain, knowing the deeper they immerse themselves in their roles, the more difficult it’ll be for either one to get out alive.

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