Infernal Affairs ★★★

"You're acting like a real criminal. Have you forgotten you're a cop?"

We're trying something a little different for the next two Daily Mosh Film Club picks: watching an original and its Hollywood remake following that. For me, raised on American films and not really a "cinephile" by any means until about 5 years ago, that means it's likely I have seen the remake and not the original. That's the case here for Andrew Lau's and Alan Mak's 無間道 -- literally "The Unceasing Path," presented in English as Infernal Affairs -- famously reworked by Martin Scorsese with a Whitey Bulger-inspired story in the Best Picture-winning The Departed, for which the legendary filmmaker also finally won his first Best Director Oscar.

Though I know many call that a "lesser" Marty film, I love it, and can't wait to see it again in a couple weeks. In the meantime, tonight is the night for the beloved 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller, starring Andy Lau and Tony Leung.

Police officer Chan Wing-yan (Leung) is working undercover in the Hong Kong Triad criminal syndicate; only Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong) knows his mission and identity. Meanwhile, Triad member Lau Kin-ming (Lau) infiltrates the HKPD, planted by his boss Hon Sam (Eric Tsang). Over a long decade, each mole works to gain precious info about each enemy; Lau rises up to Senior Inspector through hard work, while Chan suffers physically and emotionally in a grueling role with the gang. When an incident occurs, where it's clear both sides are aware of a mole within each respective organization -- but the identities are mysterious -- Chan and Lau are on the hint, for one another. A dangerous game of double-crossing commences, where soon they learn the deception runs even deeper.

While I should wait to compare these movies until I've given The Departed another proper watch, I can't help but think about it already. Immediately I was struck by the shorter runtime of Infernal Affairs, only about 100 minutes, compared to nearly an hour longer for Scorsese's feature. Many praise the tight script of Lau's and Mak's film, and indeed the story moves quickly to establish the central tension. But that early montage is so fast, I almost wished for more depth in the characters. We just accept what the movie tells us instead of finding it out on our own.

With that said, it's a story that eventually becomes action-packed and thrilling, because of the moral conundrums and emotional tension that ramps up swiftly. To be fair, this plot is at times cliché-ridden and not terribly original -- also, as most note, hilariously implausible and unconvincing -- but acted quite well and shot with jump cuts and quick edits to keep the pace. While many may have been driven to watch Infernal Affairs from the star leads, the standout to me was the funny and wild performance by Eric Tsang as the Triad boss. Kind of wanted more from him.

But certain elements of the film are very Hong Kong, which has a strong arthouse tradition but few other movies that interest me. That's because the same tropes are used here: melodramatic flourishes, black-and-white flashbacks, sentimental pop music, shoehorned characters who exist only to tell the audience what's going on. It's fine. Some people don't want to be challenged too much when watching a film. If you drill down to the central theme of the two moles, and the cat-and-mouse game that unfolds when they think they have each other figured out, it's quite good.

I'll correct myself actually real quick. There certainly is one Hong Kong style of film I do like: the balls-out action thriller, chiefly John Woo's bonkers The Killer and real masterpiece -- and recent Film Club pick -- Hard Boiled. This is not either of those, and that's okay. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a tad disappointed that this was maybe a little tame.

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