[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B004D39GG4][/pullquote] In 2002, two of the biggest names in Hong Kong cinema, Andy Lau and Tony Leung, teamed up to star in (and in Lau’s case to co-direct) Infernal Affairs. The film was a box office smash in Hong Kong, and also received huge critical acclaim, beating Hero to the Best Film award at the 2002 Hong Kong Film Awards. The film was later picked up by Martin Scorsese, who adapted it to become the Oscar winning The Departed.
On release, the buzz around the film was all about the stellar cast. Leung and Lau were (and remain) two of the biggest stars in Hong Kong Cinema. They both also have successful pop careers, and so are huge idols. Lau is best known in the West for his role in House of Flying Daggers, while Leung starred alongside Jet Li in the massive hit Hero, and is a favourite of director Wong Kar Wai, appearing in movies such as In the Mood For Love and 2046.
The two actors are terrific in Infernal Affairs. While rarely onscreen together, when they are, they spark off each other brilliantly. They meet early in the film, where Inspector Lau (Andy Lau, conveniently) buys a stereo off Leung’s Yan. Neither man realise that the other will become their nemesis as the film goes on.
Inspector Lau is a young officer in the police force who has risen swiftly through the ranks. But he has a secret “ he’s really a mole for a Triad gangster. He has been undercover in the police force for ten years, using his growing influence to help Sam evade the police. By coincidence, Yan is, on the surface at least, a key part of Sam’s gang (it turns out he’s not a stereo salesman at all; he was minding the shop while the owner went to collect his protection money). However, Yan also has a secret identity “ he’s an undercover cop, so secret that there’s only one policeman who knows his identity.
Early in Infernal Affairs a drugs raid on Sam’s gang goes awry and both sides come to realise that there’s an infiltrator in each of their midst. The rest of the film plays out a deadly game of cat and mouse, as both Yan and Lau try to uncover one another’s identities and strike telling blows for the side they have chosen. But for each of them, which side they are on becomes more blurry “ Yan fears he’s losing his identity as a policeman while Lau starts to question the path he has taken.
This is a tremendously exciting, fast paced film “ well directed, well plotted, well acted. It has its flaws, for example the use of music is poor, and when significant characters are killed, you see flashbacks of their ˜best bits’ “ almost like when an X Factor contestant gets kicked off the show. There’s also a heavy handed sub-plot where Lau’s wife is writing a novel about a man with many different characters, not realising that she could almost be writing about her husband. Nonetheless, this is an action thriller that’s up there with anything that Hollywood has produced in recent years.