Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Infernal Affairs (2002)

Fig 1 - Infernal Affairs Poster
Directed by Wai-Keung Lau and Alan Mak, Infernal Affairs tells the story of a police informant named Chen (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) who, after ten years of infiltrating a triad gang, is closing in on the end to his service. In conjunction with this, an undercover gang member named Lau (Andy Lau) has managed to rise through the ranks of the Hong Kong Police Force in order to gain intelligence on their work and, most crucially, the informant case. The triad boss Hon (Eric Tsang) and superintendent Wong (Anthony Chau-Sang Wong) are both aware that their organisations have been compromised, bringing all other priorities to a halt until the infiltrators have been discovered. Both Lau and Chen struggle with the longevity of leading double-lives, which ultimately brings proceedings to a head when their missteps become all too consequential...

I certainly have mixed feelings about this one. I went in completely blind to it's content and was pleasantly surprised by the rapid Edgar Wright-style pacing that sets up the scenario. In addition, the subject matter and choices of setting reminded me of a directorial mash-up between Christopher Nolan and the Wachowski's of The Matrix (1999) fame (which on paper sounds like a dream come true). However, as strong as the leads are, their ties to exterior characters would have benefited more from further establishment than we get. For instance, Chen and Wong have a meeting in the beginning in which Chen is complaining about how long the undercover job has been extended over the years, which ends with Wong giving him a watch as a birthday gift. Lau also has a girlfriend at home who is writing a novel which parallels his own actions, with scenes in which she deliberates over whether or not her main character is good or bad. These relationships ultimately feel void of emotional value as they are shown few and far between the larger investigation plot, making both Chen and Lau feel somewhat disposable in the grand scheme of things.

Fig 2 - Infernal Affairs - Chen
Furthermore, there are some laughably unpolished moments that make the editing feel disjointed. In multiple tender moments with Chen's psychiatrist, a forcibly sensual acoustic plucking plays over the scene and just feels incredibly out of place. For one, the film is generally lacking in cliché, making this more disappointing than anything. Then there is the issue of being told how to feel by the film, which it mistakenly does in a very unsubtle death scene when the character attached to the victim is shown reacting extensively, in addition to desaturated flashbacks of the cherished few moments they shared on-screen. It felt akin to parody in moments like this, especially since the majority of the film is put together very well.

Overall, the film's satisfyingly bleak ending and at times Nolan-esque execution somewhat excuses the clunky editing and questionable soundtrack cues. However, Infernal Affairs suffers from an underlying lack of emotional engagement with it's leads, making their fates ultimately unworthy of audience devotion. However, the cinematography and set designs are carefully considered, feeling almost ahead of their time, which saves the film from falling into obscurity.


Fig. 1 Infernal Affairs Poster (2002) From: Infernal Affairs - Directed by: Wai-Keung Lau & Alan Mak

Fig. 2 Infernal Affairs Screenshot (2002) From: Infernal Affairs - Directed by: Wai-Keung Lau & Alan Mak

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