Review: Infernal Affairs (2002)

Andrew Lau, director/cinematographer of this film, has previously brought us such classics as the Young And Dangerous series, and the special effects fest Stormriders. However, he should also be held responsible for films such as the confusing Bullets Of Love (which I can’t help thinking of as “Bullets Urve Lurrrrve”) and the utterly tosspottish Wesley’s Mysterious File, in which the only mystery was how such a respectable cast were persuaded to show their faces in such drivel.

So “highly variable” would be one way of referring to this director: when he gets it right, he gets it right in an earth-shattering, multiple-orgasming kind of way, and when he gets it wrong, he gets it so wrong that you wish a tidal wave would sweep over the planet to remove the evidence. Fortunately for the cinema-going public, Infernal Affairs belongs to the former category: everyone from critics to audiences to people off the street are raving about this film, and it became the highest-grossing Hong Kong film of all time. It should come as no surprise that a prequel (Infernal Affairs II) and a sequel (Infernal Affairs III) have since been released.

The plot is simple: a cop undercover in the triads crosses paths with a triad undercover in the cops. The two main characters, played with consummate skill by Tony Leung Chiu Wai (as the former) and Andy Lau Tak Wah (as the latter), navigate the difficulties of their respective roles like soldiers crossing a minefield. The tension inherent in constantly living a double life, and indeed a double life that has a high risk of sudden violent death, fairly leaps off the screen. Both actors were nominated for the Best Actor award in the 22nd Hong Kong Film Awards, with Tony Leung taking the statue, one of six that Infernal Affairs scored.

The support cast were without exception superb. Eric Tsang and Anthony Wong, as the triad boss and police boss respectively, inhabited their roles with verve and passion, which we’ve come to expect from Tsang at least. Wong, known in recent years for sleepwalking through roles he feels unexcited about, had a bumper year in 2002, with three nominations for the Best Supporting Actor in the HKFA. He eventually won for this role, away from Infernal Affairs cast-mates Eric Tsang and Chapman To.

I must say that even Edison Chen, someone I’ve always had a strong aversion to, did well in his albeit small role. In fact, amongst the whole cast, there wasn’t a single wrong note or lacklustre performance from anyone. Sammi Cheng shone as a dramatic character, while Kelly Chen, although less than credible as a psychiatrist, at least comported herself with some professionalism and refrained from creating a spectacle (as she did in Lavender, for example).

So overall, an interesting story made exceptional by the performances of the whole cast.

9 morse code taps out of 10.
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