Infernal Affairs

Infernal Affairs (Mou gaan dou) (2002)

Infernal Affairs (Mou gaan dou) first published by Movie Gazette, 12 Nov, 2003

“I wish you guys every success in the police force – good luck, officers”, says Sam (Eric Tsang) to a line-up of young recruits. Except that Sam is a Triad boss, and the recruits are young criminals who have agreed to infiltrate the police force as informers for Sam’s gang. This is how we are introduced to the topsy-turvy world of Infernal Affairs (Mou gaan dou), in which two directors (Andrew Lau and Alan Mak) collaborate to tell the twinned stories of two men who lead the split lives of double agents.

A decade later, one of Sam’s recruits, Ming (Andy Lau), has worked his way through the ranks to the Criminal Investigation Bureau, secretly feeding police intelligence to Sam while arresting his Triad rivals. Meanwhile, Sam’s most trusted henchman, Yan (Tony Leung), is in fact a police officer deep undercover, whose real identity is known only to his handler, Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong). After a police raid on Sam’s operation goes wrong, both sides become aware that they have a mole. With Ming and Yan each racing to flush out the other before his own cover is blown, Ming is unexpectedly promoted to Internal Affairs, and before you can say No Way Out, he has been assigned to find the mole in his own department. The stakes are high, the tension is mounting, and while Yan is desperate to regain his true identity and a normal life as a uniformed policeman, Ming is equally desperate to discard his criminal identity, and will do anything to cling to the normal life which he now enjoys.

This stylish, highly convoluted film proves as adept as its two principal characters at dividing its identity, switching with consummate ease from gripping crime thriller to affecting morality drama and back again. The script (by Mak and Felix Chong) is extremely economic, barely leaving the viewer time to breathe from one scene to the next. Yet for all its pace and complexity, Infernal Affairs presents fully rounded characters facing credible dilemmas, so that it will not only keep you on the edge of your seat, but also engage your emotions – not least because of the intense performances given by the two leads and Anthony Wong. The scenes of violence, when they come, are remarkably restrained for a Hong Kong crime film, with the focus less on action and more on consequence – and the final twist is as tragic as it is clever. It may be about two men trapped in a sort of hell, but this is heavenly film-making.

Strap: Whether a morality tale working undercover as a thriller or vice versa, this is furiously paced, full of dramatic double agency, and as tense as elevator cable.

Anton Bitel