Category Archives: Infernal Affairs

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.

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.