Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

MYOTS: Infernal Affairs, 2002

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Since Martin Scorsese is releasing a remake of this next year, it’s time to put this gem into your viewing pile.

This is the best movie John Woo (Wu Yusen) never made. (And, as a fan of both, thank goodness that he didn’t.) The concept is so simple, obvious, maybe even primal, that it’s a wonder no one ever made it before.

It’s an undercover story. There is, of course, the cop who has been in the Triads so long that only he and his immediate superior know he’s a cop. The brilliant twist is that there is also a Triad who was placed in the police force (in the same class at the Academy, in fact) as a mole for his Boss.

Each side discovers that it has a spy in its midst. Each spy is given the job of finding — himself. They each also try to help their true bosses find the other.

The movie is cast to perfection. The cop who’s really a crook is Andy Lau (oh yeah!). The crook who’s really a cop is a scruffy Tony Leung (Aw, heck yeah!). The head cop is Anthony Wong (Oh, hell yeah!). And the Triad boss is the ever-brilliant Eric Tsang (Aw, f*** yeah, baby!).

The reason I am thankfull John Woo didn’t make this is that there is almost no action — and that’s a great decision. Most of the film is tension and suspense as the cat-and-mouse games play out — interrupted by brief moments of violence. This style recalls Takeshi Kitano’s more than Woo’s, in fact.

The doppelganger and divided loyalty themes are all explored quite well, without being overdone. In fact, the only real problem in the movie is that minor characters get short shrift, especially Sammi Cheng’s role as Lau’s girlfriend. Everything else works, and all the characters make choices that have consequences. Major consequences. (Translation: Don’t expect many of them to come home for dinner tomorrow.)

Scorsese’s remake, The Departed, has a similarly fine cast — Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio as the moles, Jack Nicholson as the crime boss, and Martin Sheen as the head cop (though this script review suggests the character may be split in two, with Mark Wahlberg taking up the other half). I’m a little worried about it — Damon and DiCaprio are fine actors, but both are quite boyish, and fail to communicate a sense of maturity which, in the HK version, was important to the characters. We shall just have to wait and see.

Until then, the original comes to you highly recommended.

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Written by [IMH]

21 December 2005 at 10:38 am

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