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.