Infernal Affairs is a 2002 Hong Kong cop thriller. Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak the film stars an ensemble cast of Andy Lau (House of the Flying Daggers), Tony Leung, Anthony Wong (Hard Boiled) and Eric Tsang. The film would go on to spawn 2 sequels and an English language remake, The Departed, which would win the best picture Oscar.
Centering around its two main characters the plot follows inspector Lau (Lau), a triad mole in the HKPD, and Yan (Leung), a police mole within Hon Sam’s (Tsang) Triad division. We initially see the characters in their younger form being selected for infiltration but then fast forward to the modern day where both organisations begin to suspect the traitor in their midst. This leads to a cat and mouse chase with each mole attempting to identify the other before their respective organisations find out, resulting in a shocking climax.
Infernal Affairs plays on its complex and cerebral plot with great flair and style. Creating maximum tension from its premise, the film challenges you to think about the situation at all times and subverts the notion of heroes and villains. At various points of the plot you’re required to think about whether the mole is acting in the interests of their undercover organisation, their original organisation or, indeed, their own interests and this makes for a crime thriller far more gripping than most.
To compliment this, the film is beautifully shot against the neon Hong Kong backdrop and perfectly scored with a dramatic stringed score reminiscent of the finest mafia films. The actors on display, well known to the Hong Kong market but lesser known in the west, turn in outstanding performances. From the morally conflicted Yan to the manipulative Lau, from the battle worn superintendent Wong (Wong) to the explosive Sam, all the characters are incredibly well crafted and portrayed.
It’s very predictable to say that a foreign language original is superior to its western remake, but when you consider that The Departed is a critically acclaimed film beloved by most, you start to get a sense of how special Infernal Affairs is. Rarely do cop thrillers (eastern or western) require quite so much concentration and even more rarely are they so rewarding in return. Ingenious in its concept and flawless in its execution, Infernal Affairs demands to be watched.
What did you think of the film? Do you prefer the departed?