Infernal Affairs

Director: Andrew Lau, Alan Mak

Hong Kong| 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 97 minutes.

This gnarly, compelling crime drama marks the most significant step forward for Hong Kong commercial cinema since the days when John Woo was turning out the likes of The Killer and Hard Boiled. In fact, it might be considered an even more satisfying achievement than those masterpieces of choreographed mayhem precisely because it doesn’t rely on eye-popping gunplay, choosing instead the build-up of nerve-racking tension though a complex plot and thought-through characters. The central conceit’s so strong, it’s little wonder Warners have already snapped up the Hollywood remake rights. The Triad gangs have a mole (Andy Lau) in the police, and the police in turn have a mole (Tony Leung, from In the Mood for Love) in the Triads. Destinies intersect when a bungled drugs bust makes both sides aware of a traitor in their midst: Lau is assigned to root out the police turncoat even though it’s him, while Leung risks being shot by his ruthless boss (Eric Tsang, resembling an oriental Ray Winstone) unless he can pin the betrayal on one of his narcotics-running cohorts. The pressure is on.
Interestingly, the film’s original Chinese title refers to ‘The Way of Wujian’, meaning Buddhism’s deepest level of hell, and it’s clear both these men are mired deep in a moral nightmare, loyalties stretched beyond breaking point, unsure of their own identities and unwittingly drawn into sympathy with the colleagues they’re simultaneously trying to undermine. While the generic demands of gun battles and
car chases are delivered with all the panache you’d expect, it’s this gnawing paranoid unease that’s sustained in its effectiveness, especially when allied to visuals which lend the hi-tech Hong Kong cityscapes a glacial sheen. Co-directors Andrew Lau (no relation to the leading man) and Alan Mak are by no means big names, but Michael Mann would have been proud of this one.

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