Country: Hong Kong (China)
Those who have watched the much-acclaimed and award-winning movie ‘The Departed’ might want to go back to experience the film that started it all. Though Infernal Affairs (Mou Gaan Dou) is not a household name outside Hong Kong, it is worth seeing the film that ultimately became the inspiration for Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’.
The story is about cops and criminals – where drug operatives put their own mole in the police department as a spy and where the cops put their own man in the drug triads to spy. What ensues is a thrilling tale of cat and mouse chases and alternate personalities. The ‘moles’, both of whom live double lives, have to make choices based on what is most important to them.
Whereas the first film, starring Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Eric Tsang, Anthony Wong, et al, is the captivating tale of how both the mafia and the police department discovers that moles from opposing sides have infiltrated their teams, the subsequent films act as prequels and sequels, adding more layers to the story of the first film.
The films feature a stellar cast (but note that Tony Leung and Andy Lau are not there in the second film, where their ‘young’ versions are played by Shawn Yue and Edison Chen.)
Infernal Affairs II is a prequel, throwing more light onto the characters in the first film. Not much can be said about it without revealing spoilers. There is more about the protagonists (the moles), as well as the drug triad bosses and the police chiefs. Though there is no strong link between the first and second film (apart from the characters), it cannot be ignored as part of the trilogy.
Infernal Affairs III is a sequel to the first film but it brings back all the characters from the trilogy (including Andy Lau and Tony Leung), and is less of a crime thriller and more of a psychological thriller which attempts to weave the story subtly around Buddhist concepts of good and bad.
Do not go to watch these films expecting the protagonists to speak English and act all American. Yes, one is bound to make comparisons with the Departed. However, what one has to understand is that the Departed took some ideas from all three films and put it in one. However, the concept is still a clear winner here, and it’s quite sad that when the Departed won the Oscars that year, they hailed Infernal Affairs as a Japanese movie. Ouch.
It is a Hong Kong film, with its stunning cityscape present in many scenes. It is not your normal Hollywood fare but the trilogy definitely gets addictive and is really a good example of top class Asian cinema.
The trilogy also benefits from having two directors who made all three movies consistently. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak create a compelling set of films that you are sure to watch with full attention.
Also check out the soundtracks of all three films, which feature some great music by famed Hong Kong composer Chan Kwong Wing.
FINAL VERDICT: Watch it if you want to enjoy an engrossing piece of action-drama that also draws from Buddhist philosophy.
Avoid it if you think that the Departed is the best in its genre and if you do not think Asian cinema can stand up against Hollywood cinema.