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.
Few films have had the impact and lasting appeal that have surrounded Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai for the last sixty years. It has inspired countless remakes that transcend genre and decade (ranging from John Sturges’ westen Magnificent Seven to Pixar’s animated film A Bug’s Life), but the film’s appeal doesn’t merely lie in its legacy and popularity; Seven Samurai shows a masterful understanding of both cinematic and storytelling technique and has certainly earned its place among countless ‘top ten’ lists and among some of the greatest films of all time.
Perhaps the most impressive quality of Seven Samurai is its ability to transcend culture and language, its unbridled popularity in whatever culture that it appeared in. Kurosawa had achieved worldwide fame and popularity with Rashoman, a film that did extremely well at international film festivals and put Japanese cinema, and Kurosawa, into the world’s view. While samurai films were nothing new, Seven Samurai seemed to hit something that struck the chords of audiences around the world; the viewer didn’t have to be well-versed in Japanese culture and history to understand the film’s themes of duty, danger, and love.
The film’s wide cast of characters all feel genuine and unique; with a main cast of seven samurai among an entire village of farmers, they all feel well-developed and understandable. Kanbei (Takashi Shimura) is the leader of the group, stern and wise, but not completely stoic and inhuman. Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) is the farmer-samurai whodoesn’t really fit into either camp of characters. Katsushiro (Isao Kimura) is the one apprentice, the unknowing figure with whom the audience can most easily relate, and the lover-boy of the film. Even without one main protagonist toe follow, the action is tense and powerful because we are meant to identify with the whole cast of characters, not just one central figure.
Just like the characters and actors, each frame that Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai construct are extremely complex and interesting. Many frames have multiple layers in space and take advantage of every inch of space within the bounds of the camera’s vision. During the scene where the samurai first meet the village elder in the mill, the positions of the characters represent their power within the situation; the elder dominates the middle of the frame with the samurai in the middle, while the villagers cower in the background away from the action.
Seven Samurai is a film that has gone down in history as one of the best films ever made and has gone on to influence countless other films in the sixty odd years since its original release. Even if you have a very small interest in Japanese film, you should definitely see this film at some point in your life just because of how much influence it’s had over the industry.
Class blog for an East Asian Cinema class at Dickinson College