Ichi the Killer Review

Based on the manga of the same name, Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer courted instant controversy upon its release in 2001. The film has been banned in some countries, including Malaysia and Norway, and heavily censored in many others, including the United Kingdom and Germany. Its depiction of extreme violence was deemed so excessive, that sick bags, adorned with the film’s logo, were passed out to viewers at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The film’s violence is masterfully gory. Blood gushes from open wounds like a shaken-up soda, and characters that stand in the way of the titular Ichi often find themselves missing limbs, heads, or severed in half. For those with weak constitutions, this film is certainly one to skip. The violence is truly exceptional.

The story concerns Ichi (Nao Omori), a mild-mannered man with few social skills or attractive traits. However, when upset, Ichi is prone to bursting into tears and flying into a psychopathic rage, coupled with disturbing sexual desire. He styles himself something of a superhero, killing pimps, yakuza members, and general ne’er-do-wells in an attempt to clean up his town.

His counterpart is Kakihara (played with a dangerously magnetic attraction by Tadanobu Asano), a Yakuza lieutenant with a sexual desire for pain (both giving and receiving). After the leader of his gang is murdered, Kakihara sets about finding the man who did it. The events that follow put Ichi and Kakihara on a collision course towards each other, culminating in an epic final showdown.

If one can get past the violent imagery, there is a lot in Ichi the Killer worthy of discussion. Themes of violence against women, power and control, and questions of what is “right” echo throughout the film. The mad, alluring Kakihara is an obvious villain; the generally unassuming Ichi’s character is more open to interpretation. The shadowy Jiji, a mysterious figure who appears to have ties to Ichi, Kakihara, and the other Yakuza clans, also presents interesting moral questions.

The violence and sexual imagery of Ichi the Killer will turn off some viewers, who may find themselves asking “why” after witnessing only a few of the film’s gristly death scenes. To answer that question, one must turn to the film’s director, Takashi Miike. For Miike, the violence’s extremity clearly situates it in the realm of fantasy. The violence in the film is fantastical; death is delivered via blade in a multitude of interesting ways. This keeps the film from being too real, though the fountains of blood and discarded body parts may speak otherwise.

There is a legitimate concern about seeing Ichi the Killer, and if one doesn’t enjoy cinema violence, this won’t be the film to convince them. However, for those that enjoy gore, or those who are willing to look past it in search of a greater cinematic experience, Ichi the Killer is an excellent piece of cinema that must be seen to be believed. For those who still aren’t sure, this trailer serves as a good introduction to the film’s style and content.

Film Review: Hero

Beautiful contrast between his red wardrobe and black hair (Broken Sword acted by Tony Leung)
Beautiful contrast between his red wardrobe and black hair
(Broken Sword acted by Tony Leung)

The director of Hero, Zhang Yimou, is one of the most popular Chinese 5th generation film directors. Since his debut with Red Sorghum, he has been made numerous films such as Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lanterns, and Flowers of War. One of his masterpieces, Hero, was released in 2002, and has been famous especially for its beautiful and artistic use of color and impressive martial arts collaborated with majestic nature in mainland China. It is also famous for the widely well-known actors such as Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Zhang Ziyi who have acted in a lot of Chinese or Hong Kong movies.

 Hero is a story about the Qin state and assassins intending to kill the emperor of Qin during the Warring States period in prehistoric China. The emperor was famous for brutal and relentless politics, and did not allow any unfamiliar people to be close to him because of his fear of assassins. One day, a nameless man comes to see the emperor to show the three swords of Long Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow, very famed assassins in China. Nameless tells three stories about how he killed them, and the emperor allows Nameless to get closer to him. However, the emperor finds out that Nameless is also a part of the assassins. Later, the emperor realizes that Broken Sword understood his feelings about the peaceful unification of China. This is because Nameless confessed the fact that Broken Sword did not kill the emperor because he knew that the emperor has the power to unite China including the Zhao region where Nameless and Broken Sword came from. The emperor passes his sword to Nameless, but he gives up killing the emperor.

 The film has a lot of unique film techniques. In particular, the use of color gives viewers very impressive and strong images of each scene. There are the scenes whose coloring is black, red, blue, green, and white, and the way of coloring is different in each scene. For instance, red is used in actors’ wardrobes or make-up, and it also reflects the passion and love between Broken Sword, Flying Snow, and Moon who is a student of Broken Sword. Their bright red wardrobes have good contrast with actors’ long black hair, and these images create very strong impressions of the story in the viewers’ minds. In the blue scenes, almost everything including settings and actors’ costumes is colored by blue. Actors wear beautiful wardrobes, and their epic figures are outlined by huge blue rocks generating cold and dry atmosphere in the scenes.

The collaboration of martial arts and nature They are like ones of leaves.  (Flying Snow acted by Maggie Cheung / Moon acted by Zhang Ziyi)
The collaboration of martial arts and nature
They are like ones of dancing leaves. (Flying Snow acted by Maggie Cheung / Moon acted by Zhang Ziyi)

 Furthermore, there are many contrasts with nature such as rain, huge rocks, desert, fallen leaves, and lakes. They reflect the harmony between people and magnificent nature especially in action scenes. Throughout the film, these essences of nature are projected very beautifully, and viewers can see how they are collaborated with martial arts. Particularly, at the scene where Nameless and Long Sky fight together, drops of rain, water spray, and dripping water make actors and their swords look very lively and powerful. Slow motion editing enables the watery scene to be more refreshing. When Flying Snow and Moon fight on the yellow ground covered by ginkgo’s leaves, the leaves dance around the actors and sometimes blocks viewers’ sights. This harmony between actors and nature reflects how ancient Chinese people adapted to China’s magnificent nature and lived with it.

These contrasts between actors, colors, and natures not only differentiate each scene clearly, but also express mystic and magnificent nature and its multicolored seasonal images which have been an important part of Chinese people’s lives. Hero is an action movie combining martial arts, but at the same time, the beauty of images refers to Chinese people’s artistic sensation and tradition harmonized with nature in China.

Hero review

Flying Snow (Maggie)
Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung)

       Hero was directed by the Chinese film director Zhang Yimou. It was first released in China in 2002 and starred Jet Li, Tony Chiu Wai Leung, and Maggie Cheung. It is an action film based on the talk between the king of Qin and the assassin Nameless.

The main plot of the film is that the protagonist, Nameless, claims that he killed three assassins from Zhao State: Long Sky, Broken Sword and Flying Snow. These three people have been trying to kill the King of Qin for years and 3 years ago they almost succeeded. The reward for killing these three assassins brings Nameless to a 10 paces space to drink with the King. Nameless explained how he conquered them one by one, but the King questions him constantly and provides his own thoughts.

Nameless, seems to be very stoic and calm; however, people can find his change of mind throughout the candles between him and the King of Qin. The candles normally are not moving, but after Nameless tells his story, these candles become violent and point at the King. The king also can read candles as a symbol of inner mind and indicates his own opinion about the story Nameless told; candles suddenly are turning confusedly toward many directions, showing him flustered and frightened that the King sees through his lies. Nameless says that he abandoned all his feelings because he wants to be the best swordsman; however, his feelings, although not clearly displayed on his face, are exposed by candles in front of him.

Besides the main story line, Zhang Yimou used a non-mainstream editing method which is different from the classic Hollywood style of continuity editing. He used non-linear cuts throughout the movie, which provides better view for the audience to understand what they claim happened. Every memory is matched to their talking and is differed by colors. For example, the first story that Nameless told is based on red, which represents fury, passion and violent. Then the King of Qin also imagined his own version of the story, which is portrayed in blue, and it means lies, conspiracy and distrust. After that, Nameless has nothing to do but tell the truth within white, which represents pure, quiet, and truth. Finally, Nameless talks about the story heard from the Broken Sword portrayed in green, which means hope, dream and vitality.

Tan Dun provided great pieces of music for this film as well. He used simple slow-paced string music as non-diegetic music. The music perfectly fits the background of the film. For example, the first time Long Sky fights with Nameless, an old man is playing with traditional Chinese musical instrument. They barely talk to each other, but people can see their attitude throughout the music. They both know that they should be calm during the fight and tries to blend themselves into the rain and music.

The title of the film, Hero, is very ambiguous. Who is the hero in this film? Nameless is the best assassin who can kill the tyrant and finish his high-pressure dominance. The King of Qin also has his own dream about giving civilians a peaceful, stable environment by eliminating all other States near the Qin State. Broken Sword wants to live in the wild or mountain to escape but he is the only person who understands the big picture of this world and influenced many other people. They are all heroes to me.

Hero Film Review

Hero (2002)
Hero (2002)

Hero is bright, colorful, dramatic, and dazzling. The visual effects, mise-en-scene, and star power come together to create a powerhouse of entertainment.  While the commercial success of the film is a tribute to its blockbuster status, the overall appeal of the film is tainted by the troubling nature of some of the themes. Hero is surely entertaining, but the underlying ideas surrounding power vs. the masses cannot be ignored.

Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung)
Broken Sword (Tony Leung) and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung)

Hero takes place during the Warring States period of Chinese history, occurring just before the King of Qin succeeds in creating a unified China. The story follows the journey of a skilled martial arts fighter called Nameless (Jet Li), who is credited with killing three assassins–Long Sky (Donnie Yen), Broken Sword (Tony Leung), and Flying Snow (Maggie Cheung)–who attempted to murder the King of Qin (Chen Daoming). As a reward for his feats, Nameless receives the honor of sitting within 10 paces of the king. During their time together the king asks Nameless to recount the stories of killing the assassins. The rest of the film is made up of smaller stories told by Nameless and the king, interspersed with returns to the conversation between the two men. Nameless and the king of Qin engage in a battle of their own, fought within their minds.

King of Qin (Chen Daoming)
King of Qin (Chen Daoming)

Hero, directed by Zhang Yimou, was released in 2002 and was the most expensive project in the history of Chinese cinema. After its release, Hero also became the highest grossing film in China’s history. The film was not released in the U.S. until 2004, where it debuted as #1 and garnered the second highest opening weekend for a foreign language film. Hero was nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear and the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and won the Alfred Bauer Award at the Berlin International Film Festival.

I would argue that Hero‘s international success is largely due to its visual appeal. The film includes beautifully choreographed fight scenes that resemble dances more so than battles. Despite Hero’s categorization as a martial arts film, emphasis is placed on the beauty and skill of the craft rather than the violence. The costumes and set design work in conjunction with the choreography to create a visual masterpiece. Typical of Zhang Yimou, the colors in Hero are vibrant and emotionally charged, highlighting the action and overarching ideas within every scene and the film as a whole.

blue sno
Flying Snow in battle

Needless to say, Hero was an international success from both a commercial and critical perspective. However, I found that the visually beautiful scenes often eclipse the film’s major themes. Some of the visual elements assist in emphasizing nationalism (surrounding a common Chinese identity), but often distract from some of the more troubling aspects of the film. Hero is meant to convey a sense of pride in a national identity, but it also implies that the masses are not capable of deciding their own fate. Instead, the masses must place their trust in the implied superior intelligence of the ruling body. Troubling indeed.

Hero is undeniably an entertaining film. Its visual elements are absolutely captivating and the plot will keep viewers on their toes. I would recommend watching this film for the quality of entertainment, but not for the content of its overall message. I believe it is certainly possible to enjoy Hero, but, as with any film, it is also important to maintain a critical eye towards the underlying themes.

Shiri: Film Review

Shiri, written and directed by Kang Je-gyu, is a 1999 release, action packed, South Korean, blockbuster film that challenges the preconceived ideas of identity and what happens when those ideas combined with the theme of undying love. Blockbusters are often similar in action and progression, but Shiri involves deep things, hidden within symbols in the movie. The actors are important when analyzing the film.

The actors and actresses do a solid job on making the characters believable. Yunjin Kim portrays the vicious, cold-blooded, North Korean named Hee. Hee assumes the stolen identity of Hyun, a gentle, feminine girl who tends to fish. Her identity is a warped and not until the end of the film is it revealed if both sides of her are reconciled or not. Hyun is happily engaged to Yu, who is portrayed by Han Suk-kyu, another secret agent, but from South Korea. This mixture of secret agents, North Koreans, and South Koreans creates a volatile mix and tests the boundaries of identity. Those factors also play a large role in how if identity is undecided, then undying love cannot exist properly.

While the story itself was not so realistic, the themes keep the viewer captivated. Identity and undying love bring the story together and give the film meaning, while the character’s actions within the film are justified by the themes. The North Korean persona portrayed is believable based on the previous knowledge on North Korean life. A large amount of the population is in the military and trained to be ruthless. The ruthlessness is show by Hee burning the picture of her family with not remorse. The simple them of undying love is rattled in this film due to the apparent opposites paralleled in the film. The kissing gourami fish oppositely parallels the relationship of Hyun and Yu. Kissing gourami are explained in the film as symbols of the truest form of love, dying if the other dies. Yu and Hyun could resemble the fish, but Hee ruins the sanctity of the bond. Of course, at the end, to complicate matters further, another character appears and gives more insight on what happens when identity combines with the theme of undying love.

Plot is important when telling a story, but in Shiri, the plot is rather action heavy with little explaining points, however, the storyline is logical and does follow a linear timeline. The structure of the film is decent, but the action heavy points throughout most of the duration of the movie are exciting at first, but eventually become a bit stale and pointless. However, it must be understood that, these directing choices were mainly made to fit this film into the action genre, which is what eventually allowed it to become a blockbuster.

Cinematic aspects of the film should not be overlooked either. The non-diegetic sound effects of all the ammo being fired give the film a war like tone, which is accurate. Even though it is not a war movie, it is a war of North and South Koreans, as well as their identities. Non-diegetic music within the film was appropriate in timing from when love is in the air all the way to when all seems lost. None of these elements detracted from the film as a whole, but rather contributed greatly to it.

Shiri Review

Korean version of the poster featuring protagonists Ryu and Lee, and antagonist Park
Korean version of the poster featuring protagonists Ryu and Lee, and antagonist Park
American poster for Shiri
American poster for Shiri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Korean director Kang Je-Kyu’s 1999 film Shiri is an action-packed, Hollywood style romance-thriller, with the conflict between North and South Korea in the center. The film follows two South Korean secret agents, Ryu and Lee who are on a mission to track down North Korean sniper Hee. While a group of renegade North Korean soldiers, from the same special ops unit at Hee, have stolen a powerful explosive in order to spark a conflict between the two Koreas in hopes that another war will result in reunification of the two countries.

The film is packed with gunfights, fasted paced action scenes, and literally ticking time-bombs, yet it also displays moments of comedy and romance between Ryu and his fiancé Hyun, who owns a fish shop. Over the course of the film, it is revealed that Hyun is not who Ryu thinks she is, and the two storylines begin to merge together in a flurry of chase scenes and bullets. The film is heavy—to the point of being excessive–on lengthy gunfight scenes. Compared to other movies such as those of Hong Kong director John Woo, the scenes attempt to take on a sense of realism through the handheld camera shots and pacing of the fights, as characters pause to duck behind tables. This realism is broken, however, by the seemingly endless streams of bullets flowing from the enemy’s guns and the seeming invincibility of the protagonists (unless their death or injury proves an important plot point).

shirir1cap4

Following the typical Hollywood blockbuster style, Shiri is at times overbearing in its use of redundancy and the urgency of the ever-ticking time bombs and deadlines. Yet the film also possesses several traits that set it apart from Western blockbusters. One such trait is the role of the North-South conflict of the movie. By using these historical events and themes, Shiri is able to reach with a wide audience within Korea.  The film’s title comes from the name of a type of fish that is native to rivers in North and South Korea. Unlike the characters in the movie, the shiri fish swims freely across the borders of the two countries, unaware of its location.

Through its use of romance, action and violence, Shiri is often labeled as one of the first “Korean Blockbusters.” Rooted in the historical and political tensions of modern-day Korea, the film is without a doubt Korean, but I believe that the stylistic elements of the film that fall under the label of “blockbuster” are overdone. Although the gunfights and time bombs provide a sense of action and urgency to the film, they are extended and repeated to the extent that they begin to bore the viewer.

Identity and Mistrust in “Infernal Affairs”

Peter Hechler

Infernal Affairs (2002) risks losing its audience in its story almost as much as the main characters risk losing themselves in what they do. From directors Andy Lau and Alan Mak comes a film about identity and acting. And of course, a film about acting puts heavy reliance on its actors. Luckily for Infernal Affairs, this trust is well-placed, as the actors definitely carry the film. Audiences seemed to agree that it was a success, as the film has received critical acclaim not only in Hong-Kong, where it was made, but also internationally.

Infernal Affairs is the story of two men: one who is a deeply undercover cop working under a gang leader and one who is the exact opposite—a man who is a mole for the same gang, working in the police force. They are both given the same task: they are to find the traitor in their ranks and deal with him. Whoever finds the other first, will undoubtedly win, and as the film itself notes, whoever loses, dies.

From here on out begins a tale of espionage, centering on these two characters. The film starts at fast pace and continues to build, with violence always looming overhead. In a tale of false identities, it is critical that the actors do their job as well as they do. Tony Leung, known for Hero and In the Mood for Love, plays the part of Yan, the undercover cop. Andy Lau (separate from the director, Andrew Lau), known for House of Flying Daggers and The Warlords, plays the part of the gang mole, Ming Lau. Their actual dialogue tends to show very little of what they actually think, as most of it is in their roles. For example, toward the start of the film, we see the police trying to bust the gang for drugs. Both of the main characters are working for their respective sides and neither is in a position for much dialogue. And yet, this is one of the more telling scenes, as they show who they’ve become as adults outside of training. Almost no words are exchanged during this scene. However, it is precisely through their non-verbal acting and careful words that we see who they are. Though we know who they supposedly are at the start of the film, the question of identity remains throughout the film, and if you think you’ve got these characters figured out, then you had better finish the film.

While Infernal Affairs does deal with gangs and police forces and has a lot of violence, it takes much more after a film like Goodfellas, rather than The Godfather. A danger of many films in the gangster genre is the idea of glorifying this underworld, which Infernal Affairs does a good job of avoiding. Instead of working within the underworld and making some of them seem like heroes, Infernal Affairs shows the kind of ambiguity that we see in Goodfellas, where the world is incredibly harsh, yet far from black and white. Henry Hill and Jimmy Conways’ characters from Goodfellas are much closer to those in Infernal Affairs than those of Michael and Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. Yet Infernal Affairs never takes the perspective of a character like Henry Hill’s in Goodfellas. And as there is no inner monologue, our access to these characters is done purely through how the actors themselves show these characters on camera.

Of course, the actors alone do not make the film. A good actor will never reach his or her full potential without good direction. In the case of Infernal Affairs, there are two directors: Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, both of whom are now known for the Infernal Affairs movies in particular. However, Andrew Lau has done extensive work as a cinematographer and photographer, and Alan Mak was a relatively new director at the time, who also has received credits on the Academy Award-Winning adaptation of Infernal Affairs, The Departed. Their combined efforts yielded a strongly directed and beautifully shot film.

All in all, Infernal Affairs is a film about identity, who you are and who you choose to be. It takes the form a fast paced gang-thriller, but to stereotype it by genre would be to judge a book by its cover, which would be a grave mistake here. The acting and character development brings this film to life, engaging the audience in a very relatable way.

 

Works Cited:

“Goodfellas” Internet Movie Database, 2014. 8 April 2014.

“The Godfather” Internet Movie Database, 2014. 8 April 2014.

 “Infernal Affairs” Internet Movie Database, 2014. 8 April 2014.

Infernal Affairs. Dir. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. Perf. Andy Lau, Tony Chiu Wai Leung, Anthony Wong, Chau-Sang. Media Asia Films. 2002. Film.

Morality and Identity in Infernal Affairs

Infernal Affairs is a fast-paced action film directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. Released in 2002, the blockbuster has received significant critical acclaim and financial success. The Hong Kong movie deals with the competing forces of good and evil in society shown through the competition between the Triads and the police. Existing within this structure is Yan, an undercover cop who infiltrates the Triads, and Lau, a Triad mole who enters the police force. This dichotomy evolves throughout the course of the movie and rather than personalize the rivalry, it is shown to be greater than the main protagonists. In order to keep the moral divide in a big picture context, the Triad boss Sam has a similar competition with Wong, the police chief. Lau and Mak deliberately chose to keep the moral divide on a grand scale above the main characters. Sam and Wong act as patriarchs, this generational element adds a feeling of timelessness to this battle.

One of the best scenes to represent this rivalry is when Sam is arrested and sitting in the police station right after a busted drug deal. The Triads are carefully placed behind him to mirror the police that stand with Wong. The two groups are on opposite sides of the table to allow the viewer to compare them and see how the distance that separates them is so much more than simply the table. This is when both Wong and Sam admit to having placed a mole within the ranks of each other’s groups. As Wong and Sam look over their own men suspiciously, the camera pans along the faces of both the Triads and police. At this point, the viewer must consider the fact that even though there is a great deal of moral difference between the police and the Triads, they appear to be basically interchangeable. Outward appearances are deceiving in this movie, especially when discussing the true nature of characters.

Lau and Yan both struggle to find their respective places within this structure that has been so clearly defined. While Yan, played by Tony Leung, has a firmer grip on his identity, being undercover for so long takes a toll on him. Early on, Wong chastises him for the assault charges he commits while with the Triads. One of the areas where the film falls short is that it often tells the viewer what has happened rather than show them. It would add much to the movie if Yan was seen committing these crimes. However, the fact that he slips into criminal activity shows the degree to which he enters the immoral side of the structure. This appearance has very little to do with his true identity because while Yan commits crimes like snorting coke at the drug deal, he remains fixed as a cop and is really the moral compass of the movie.

His rival Lau, played by Andy Lau, is the Triad mole inside the police department. His internal conflict over his place within this moral structure is portrayed both by the excellent acting of Andy Lau and key points in the movie. For example, Lau’s obsession with his badge and the fact that he keeps holding and touching it represents him toying with the idea of permanently being a police officer. His character lacks an ethical code and this allows for his identity to be in flux throughout the film which ironically leads to significant success in his life. Lau quickly ascends through the ranks of the police and is shown to be upper class specifically in his style of dress, he typically wears expensive suits. Lau’s immorality works to his advantage in the police when he poses as a lawyer in order to deceive the Triad gang member. This is a victory for the police which Lau accomplishes by acting like a criminal. His ambiguous nature allows Lau to choose where he wants to exist in the moral divide between good and evil which makes him all the more interesting and engaging.

Andrew Lau and Alan Mak successfully combine powerful thematic questions concerning morality and the individual’s place in society’s moral structures with an entertaining and dramatic action movie. There is a careful balance between the character development of the main protagonists and scenes of violence and action to keep any audience captivated. The quick entrance and exits of certain characters, specifically the love interests, can be jarring to the viewer. The female characters do not grow or perform much function within the narrative; while this can be seen as a conscious decision to keep the story from becoming too focused on the personal lives of the characters, I find that it weakened the film. The female roles could have provided a more interesting dynamic when interacting with their male counterparts rather than being little more than eye candy. Despite this fact, the internal hell of the protagonists, specifically Lau, is masterfully displayed as he operates within these two opposing structures. His identity and the universal moral implications of Lau’s story make for a great experience for any viewer.

Infernal Affairs Review

In an age where the term ‘Blockbuster’ has largely been associated with Hollywood, Wai-keung Lau’s Infernal Affairs reminds audiences that a film is a global art form and that speaking English isn’t a prerequisite for kicking ass. Even though Infernal Affairs is often talked about in regard to its remake, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, its value should not be tied to its Americanized version. Infernal Affairs is a thrilling ride, a film packed with plenty of action and suspense, one that rarely, if ever, feels cheesy. Perhaps Infernal Affairs’ most endearing quality is its heart; Lau does a wonderful job of developing the two main characters and their struggles with identity and loyalty.

The gangs and police struggle for dominance in the Hong Kong of Infernal Affairs, and each try to get a leg up by planting a mole among the ranks of the enemy. Inspector Lau Kin Ming(Andy Lau) is a high-ranking police official who secretly reports to the Triads, and Chen Wing Yan (Tony Leung) is a member of the Triads who secretly reports to Supervisor Wong (Anthony Wong), the only member of the police force you knows Yan’s true identity. The two double-agents struggle with their own identities while trying to avoid the witch-hunts for the moles that occur in the two opposing groups.

The theme of identity is one that plays a heavy role in this film and is expertly executed.  Morals are largely not clearly defined (save for some characters, like Sam) and this leaves the two main characters in a largely ambivalent light. Who is the real good guy, if there is one? Yan is secretly a cop, but he has been arrested three times for carrying out gang orders. Lau is a gangster, but works for the police force and goes after the gangs. Even the characters themselves are confused by their own identities and often don’t know which side to fight for.

The aesthetics of this film are just as engaging as its story; the settings are absolutely stunning. The circling crane shots of the Hong Kong rooftops are beautiful, and even the violence tends to be tasteful and elegant. Sound also plays a huge role in this film and is used to emotionally enhance the actions of the scenes. The music during the funeral scene is sad and mournful while the exciting, fast-paced music that plays during the conflicts between the police and Triad is exciting and terrifying. Even the people in this film are gorgeous; the gang members are supposed to be lowly and a little grungy, but manage to stay relatively attractive, and even though the women are not seen on screen for a large amount of time, they are also absolutely stunning.

Infernal Affairs is a film that succeeds on all fronts, a film that manages to be both exciting and fun to watch as well as being intellectually and emotionally stimulating. This isn’t just a film for East Asian film buffs, this is a film that truly manages to be international, a film that anyone around the world would be able to enjoy.

In the Mood for Love

Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love artfully shows the lives of two people, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, dealing with the fact that their respective spouses are unfaithful and, in doing so, create a romance of their own.  Fidelity and infidelity, appropriateness and impropriety, and romanticism and realism are all contrasted in this movie.

Both Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan are played by incredibly attractive actors, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, and almost every shot in the movie accentuates this.  Mrs. Chan goes through several stunningly tailored cheongsam dresses that show off her remarkable figure and Mr. Chow looks like the personification of masculinity in his suits.

The saturated color of the shots, along with the lighting and framing of the actors, only add to the sensuality of the film.  The heightened sexuality of scenes with these two main characters shot in slow motion to a non-diagetic song which gives them an almost dream-like quality.  These are starkly contrasted to multiple scenes in the pouring rain or when the characters are eating dinner together that bring the movie back to more realistic terms when that dreamlike sense is broken.  The camera speed returning to normal and no longer zoomed close and tilting up the actors’ bodies, and the silence all juxtapose other parts of the film.

Yet even though their spouses are unfaithful, Chow and Chan are still concerned with propriety.  They don’t want to be seen spending too much time together even if all they are doing is collaborating for Chow’s work.  They even go so far as to camp out in a room together because Mrs. Chan does not want to give the wrong impression to the people she lives with about the relationship between her and Mr. Chow.  This is a direct contrast to their partners, shown by the fact that Mr. Chan doesn’t even bother to buy two different handbags for his wife and his lover, who are neighbors.

There are also songs which are played repeatedly throughout the film.  The songs show the more ambiguous or gray elements of relationships. One of these songs, sung in Spanish, repeats the phrase “quizás, quizás, quizás” which is translated to mean “perhaps.”  Throughout the movie, Chow and Chan explore the possibilities of how their spouses began their affair, perhaps this is how their spouses got together; as well as the possibilities in their relationship, perhaps this will when their relationship finally blossoms.  These scenes can either be the turning point when a relationship becomes something more or when the characters pull away for the sake of propriety.  The whole question of “perhaps” resonates throughout all of their interactions.

Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love shows the journey of two characters dealing with unfaithful relationships.  These relationships are defined by their ambiguity, shown through music and the characters’ own reluctance to consummate any form of a relationship.  They are also defined by the contrast between the heights of romance and the harshness of reality.  The more technical aspects of how this movie is filmed serve to show these two themes in relationships.