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Infernal Affairs

Chan (back left) and Lau (front right) on a Hong Kong  rooftop.

In the Hong-Kong Film, Infernal Affairs, directors Wai-Keung (Andrew) Lau and Alan Mak explore the conflicts between loyalty and morality in the international genre of a cop movie. The predecessor to Martin Scorsese’s award winning film, The Departed, Infernal Affairs beautifully blends action and suspense with themes of loyalty and morality to create a movie that has enjoyed varying levels of success across the globe.

Produced in 2002, Infernal Affairs is a unique movie to emerge from Hong Kong’s film industry. Described by Leung Wing-Fai as: “a life saver for the Hong Kong Film Industry,” this blockbuster style film garnered an impressive $7 million (American dollars) in its home city alone (Leung 77). Blending a Hollywood blockbuster’s structure with elements of modern day Hong Kong, this film  takes on an international quality that can be enjoyed by many different people from across the globe.

Infernal Affairs follows the lives of two police officers, Chan (Tony Leung) and Lau (Andrew Lau), as they manage the difficult task of leading doubles lives with ties to the authorities and with a nefarious gang. First seen at the police academy as a promising cadet, the first protagonist, Chan, is a young man who manages to quickly impress his superiors through his discipline and diligence. The other protagonist, Lau, is a young inductee of the gang, sent to infiltrate the police as an informant for the gang’s leader, Sam. After a short time in the academy together as cadets, fate quickly separates the two as Chan is seemingly thrown out of the academy only to become an upstanding undercover officer, while Lau continues on to eventually become a corrupt inspector for the police. In the future, the two men, now ten years into their respective jobs,  lead the police and the gang in a game of cat and mouse as each side tries to outwit the other. While Chan and Lau continue to circle each other like hawks, they are confronted by the challenges in maintaining their loyalties and moral responsibilities as officers.

While watching this film, it is possible see the classic struggle between a person’s inner goodness and badness, shown in the form  of a (good) cop movie. In Chan and Lau you have two sides of the same coin; Chan, the upstanding and moral informant, stands in sharp contrast to Lau, a police inspector whose split loyalties lead him to act as an informant for the gang’s leader. In these two men we see a conflict of morality and loyalty, where the outcome of this competition will determine the triumph of good (the police) and bad (the gang). Lau’s struggle to prioritize his loyalties makes for an especially interesting story, as his choices have a dramatic impact on everyone around him.

There are many components of Infernal Affairs that make it enjoyable to watch; one of the most captivating  is the use of sound. When coupled with the fading in and out during scene transitions and the slow but suspenseful establishing shots, the music has the ability to invoke realistic emotions that are very moving to the audience. Scenes such as the first drug bust play music that creates a sense of suspense that can be felt in one’s bones, almost as if you were right in the middle of the action. In other scenes, such as the death of a character, the solemn music that is heard creates genuine feelings of sorrow. An already lively movie to begin with, the directors’ use of sound greatly enhances the film, inspiring feelings of fear, awe, and suspense that make the movie seem incredibly realistic.

Ultimately, Infernal Affairs has all of the components that are expected of a good action/cop movie. Lau and Mak have worked hard to create a film that does justice to the genre, providing quality acting, sound, and suspense all within a reasonable time frame. The  storyline provides for an interesting movie, while the sound effects and editing will work to enhance the visual and audio experience of the viewer, creating an emotionally stimulating movie. While the occasional violence is not for the faint of heart, those with a passion for cop films and suspense will enjoy the movie to the fullest.

Works Cited

1. Vordnam, Jeff. “Infernal Affairs: aka Wu Jian Dao”. 2002. Image.

2. Wing-Fai, Leung. “Infernal Affairs and Kungfu Hustle: Panacea,   Placebo, and Hong Kong Cinema”. In: Tauris World Cinema Series. London: I.B. Tauris. 2008. Print.




Farewell My Concubine


Dieyi (left) and Xioulou (right) in partial costume as the concubine and king.

In the Chinese film, Farewell My Concubine, director Chen Kaige examines the impact of cultural and political upheaval in Beijing through the viewpoints of opera performers. Arguably one of Chan’s most successful films, Farewell My Concubine won the Palm d’Or at the 1993 Cannes Film festival, the same year it was produced.   A work of art as much as it is a production, this movie emphasizes the artistic abilities of Chen and demonstrates his abilities as a remarkable director.

A beautiful (if somewhat long) movie, Farewell My Concubine follows the journey of two young boys, known as Douzi and Shitou, as they develop their lives and careers as famous opera performers. Following the effeminate Douzi’s abandonment by his mother at a Beijing opera training school, he quickly develops a close relationship with the hardy/masculine Shitou as they learn the tricks of the trade. Following a quickly developed shared dream of becoming famous performers, the two train together to perfect their respective roles, with Douzi as the Concubine and Shitou as his King. Cutting to the future, Douzi and Shitou, now under the stage names Dieyi and Xioulou, have achieved stardom as political tensions begin to brew in China. While events such as the Japanese occupation of Beijing, the Nationalist Resurgence, and the Communist revolution occur in the background, Dieyi and Xiolou continue to perform their respective roles as the concubine and king, all the while dealing with problems in their personal and professional relationship.

Watching this film, it is almost as if one is looking at two different stories unfolding side by side. On one hand you have the story of the two protagonists and their relationship; on the other hand, there is the narrative of cultural change occurring within China and its impact on cultural works like the opera. Perhaps the more fascinating of the two stories, Douzi and Shitou’s relationship invites questions on the concepts of masculinity, sexuality, and the distinction between the real world and the stage. Further complicating matters is the story of cultural change constantly running in the background, as political forces, constantly test the relationship between the two actors.

Produced after the rule of Mao Zedong, Farewell My Concubine has caused a good deal of contention over what the actual focus of the movie is. This film invites a multitude of interpretations, which range from a twisted love story to a glorification of opera. Some academic critics argue that  the film is something of a “national narrative” while others, such as Yomi Braester, see it more as a tribute to the director’s memories of Beijing, separate from the politics that turned China into a communist stronghold (Braester 89-90). I personally view this film as a tribute to the artistry of performers and the dedication they show to the trade. Despite the various interpretations of this film, the beauty of the story and the portrayal of the characters is undeniably of remarkable quality.

There are many aspects of this film that deserve praise. From the fluidity of the story to the complex but easily understood character relationships, Chen has created a masterpiece well deserving of a Palm d’Or. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this film, other than its character complexity, is the costuming. The costuming of this film is significant in the way that it is able to draw attention to certain characters both on and off of the stage.  Seeing Chen’s costuming alerts one immediately to the role of a specific person when they are not performing; however, once on stage, costuming is used to bring characters to life in a brilliant display of vibrant color and detailed clothing. In particular, when Chen has Dieyi don flowing golden robes and makeup that turns his face into a porcelain mask, one cannot help picture him as the concubine he portrays on stage. In some sense, this brilliant use of costuming is a further testament to the director’s own skills as an artist.

Ultimately Farewell My Concubine is an enjoyable blend of culture, memory, and artistry. Even though the near two and a half hour run time of the movie may seem long by Hollywood standards, Chen has earned every second. The unique character relationships will occupy the viewer’s attention for most of the movie while the fine details will evoke a plethora of emotions that further add to viewer interest. A wonderfully artistic film, this movie will inspire a true appreciation for the work that Chen puts into film to make it come to life.

Works Cited

  1. Braester, Yomi. “Farewell My Concubine: National Myth and City Memories”, in Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes. Ed. Chris Berry. bfi Publishing, 2003. Print.
  2. Cineplex. “Farewell My Concubine”.