Skip to content
Site Tools
Increase font size Decrease font size Default font size default color blue color green color
Infernal Affairs


Infernal Affairs 
( wú jiān dào 无间道 ) is a 2002 Hong Kong crime-thriller film directed by Andrew Lau ( líu wěi qiáng 刘伟强 ) and Alan Mak ( mài zhào huī  麦兆辉 ). It tells the story of a police officer who infiltrates the crime gang, and a police mole secretly working for the same gang. The Chinese title means "the non-stop path", a reference to Avici, the lowest level of hell in Buddhism. The English title is a word play combining the law enforcement term 'internal affairs' with the adjective Infernal.

Infernal Affairs (2002) seems a bit out of place in this year's program, despite the youth of its director team of Alan Mak and Andrew Lau (cinematographer for Wong Kar-wai's[ wáng jiā wèi alt王家卫 ] Chungking Express [chóng qìng sēn lín 重庆森林1994 ] and As Tears Go By [wàng jiǎo kǎ mén 旺角卡门 1988 ] ). it has already been one of the most successful films in Asia in recent memory. But there is something decidedly 'new' about the direction it takes, for Infernal Affairs is really the most ambitious attempt at high concept, blockbuster filmmaking yet attempted by the Hong Kong film industry.
Due to its commercial and critical success, Infernal Affairs was followed by a prequel, Infernal Affairs II, and a sequel, Infernal Affairs III, both released in 2003.


Since the Asian financial crisis of 1997, the Hong Kong film industry's output has decreased dramatically, with Hollywood tightening its grip on a market once dominated by a wealth of local product. Onemay detect in Hong Kong a trend toward what Justin Wyatt, in his indispensable book High Concept: Movies and Marketing in Hollywood, has described as 'high concept' filmmaking – the blockbuster formula of heavy promotion around a few high-budget films rather than the classical studio era's assembly line mode of production . Recent examples in Hong Kong include the attempt by one of the industry's most noted director-producers, Tsui Hark(xú kè 徐克), to recapture the magic of his groundbreaking Zu: Warriors of Magic Mountain (xīn shǔ shān jiàn xiá 新蜀山剑侠 1983) with the remake Legend of Zu (shǔ shān zhuàn 蜀山传 2001). An intense marketing campaign promoted the film, but at the box-office it proved an utter failure. Essentially shot with actors against a blue-screen, the film contains an overload of special effects that hardly compare with the brilliant wirework of the original, which revitalised and revolutionised the martial arts genre. Tsui's most recent effort, a sequel (another usually reliable blockbuster formula) to a film he produced, Black Mask (hēi xiá Daniel Lee, 1996), also failed at the box-office.  
Infernal Affairs, on the other hand, has had resounding popular success. It is the inaugural production of the ambitious Media Asia conglomerate, a company that previously only distributed films and videos. Released just before Christmas, it met with little competition in theatres . It was then available on DVD and VCD in time for the big spending of the Chinese New Year holidays.


       alt    alt

The first indication to moviegoers that here is a film guaranteed to give you your money's worth is the abundance of stars, including one actor probably familiar to Western art-house audiences, Tony Leung(liáng cháo wěi  梁朝伟) of Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love (huā yàng nián huá 花样年华 2000) and Zhang Yimou ' s Hero (yīng  xióng  英雄 2002). Leung plays Yan, an undercover Hong Kong cop. Part of an experimental police program to plant young recruits in the Hong Kong triads – who themselves recruit very young – Yan has essentially lived his life as a gangster. Andy Lau (líu dé huá  刘德华) undeniably Hong Kong's biggest male star today, plays Leung's opposite, a gangster named Ming who is sent to the police academy as a young man and comes to serve as the triad's best mole. Shawn Yue (yú wén lè 余文乐) and Edison Chen(chén guān xī 陈冠希 ), two of Hong Kong's hottest young male stars, play small roles as the teenage Ming and Yan in the opening flashback. Eric Tsang(zēng zhì wěi 曾志伟), star of many of Peter Chan(chén kě xīn 陈可辛)'s films, plays the triad boss Sam. Anthony Wong(huáng qīu shēng 黄秋生), an experienced character actor famous for his offbeat roles , won the Hong Kong Critics Award for best actor as Superintendent Wong, Ming's boss and Yan's contact at the police station. Sammi Cheng( zhèng xìu wén 郑秀文), Hong Kong's highest paid female star, has two brief scenes as Ming's fiancée. In fact, there is a surplus of stars in this film, with Sammi's role especially puzzlingly small: not a prominent role, yet not quite a cameo either.Pop star Kelly Chen(chén huì lín 陈慧琳), Hong Kong's 'queen of dance music,' also stars as Yan's psychiatrist。
altInfernal Affairs boasts an elaborate orchestral score of the kind rarely deployed in recent Hong Kong film while also engaging in the now common practice of having a pop hit not necessarily used within the film but associated with the motion picture. Lau, at least as famous for his success as a pop star as for his film career, collaborated on the film's pop single with his co-star, Leung, a new presence on the music scene whose first album was 'inspired by' In the Mood for Love.
The story itself, despite the various plot twists, is a bit thin, drawing upon the theme of the duplicitous gangster/policeman now familiar to audiences from many of John Woo(wú yǔ sēn 吴宇森)'s films, with Face/Off (duó miàn shuāng 夺面双雄1997) the most explicit and ironic take on this trope. But here Leung has no real opportunity to portray the kind of complex internal struggle and vulnerability he could in his similar role as an undercover cop in Woo's Hardboiled. Nevertheless, his star persona provides Infernal Affairs with the pre-sold property of the rugged, troubled fringe character. Lau's character can be recognised as the cool customer type developed in films like Running Out of Time (àn zhàn暗战,1999), as well as in his music videos, his commercials, and his public service announcements promoting the values of polite customer service to Hong Kong merchants. Until the two headliners finally meet, what really seems to drive the narrative here is appeasing an audience's curiosity as to which star will be highlighted next. Often characters are talking on their mobile phones, so they aren't even in the same room – or shot – with each other. By the time you make it through the back-and-forth plot twists, you're thankful for the entertainment but feel a bit empty, not really knowing where you've been, especially with the rather business-as-usual ending (however, DVD owners have the option of viewing the alternate ending required for Mainland China, in which punishment of the guilty is more firmly dispensed).
The film at times looks not like a feature film but like a commercial. The soothing blue-green colour scheme is apparent in such images as the rooftop scenes with a rich blue sky in the background, Ming's shirts, and even Sam's mobile phone. These soothing colours are one of the film's most appealing features, suturing the spectator as effectively as a classical Hollywood narrative. Wyatt makes note of advertising's influence on the high-concept film, enhancing the integration between marketing and film technique. Advertising, he writes, ultimately becomes a “medium of expression that is fundamental to the very construction of high-concept films” .
This is evident in Infernal Affairs' promotional material: its poster, while not a still from the film, is a composite of recurring images, which echo similar scenes of rooftop encounters in the successful Johnnie To films Running Out of Time (1999) and Running Out of Time 2 (Johnnie To and Law Wing-cheong, 2001). In Infernal Affairs this rooftop scene is a turning point and the film's emblematic (and marketable) image. When the two stars finally meet (think of the anticipation surrounding the meeting of Pacino and De Niro in Michael Mann's Heat [1995]) the film's narrative is put on hold. Time stands still to allow the consumption of this image: the clouds behind the backlit characters move in slow-motion atop one of Hong Kong's sleek, post-industrial office buildings. As Wyatt writes, “on the level of formal composition the high concept films are linked by a set of production techniques composed of extreme backlighting, a minimal (often almost black and white) colour scheme, a predominance of reflected images, and a tendency toward settings of high technology and industrial design” .
The clothing of the main characters, as well as the images in one of the alternate print advertisements for the film, provide such black-and-white simplicity, complimented by the deep bluish-green reflective surfaces of the ultra-modern industrial police station or the silver cars and radiant headquarters of the gangsters. 



As Infernal Affairs opens, Ming (Andy Lau of Full-time Killer) is being initiated into the criminal underworld by triad boss Sam (Eric Tsang of The Accidental Spy), who ends his speech to his young charges by wishing them success in the police department. Ming enters the police academy, where he excels, but sees his classmate, Yan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai of In the Mood for Love), expelled for "breaking the rules." It turns out that Yan wasn't actually drummed out of the force, but recruited by Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong of Hard-Boiled) as an undercover operative. Just as Ming is achieving success in the police department while secretly working for Sam, Ming is gaining Sam's trust as a triad member, while reporting to Wong. Ten years later, both men, still undercover, have grown confused about their true identities, while their bosses, Sam and Wong, wage a battle of wits against each other. Each boss learns that the other has a mole working for him, and unwittingly entrusts the mole himself to ferret out the culprit. Ming and Yan scramble to expose one another's identity in an effort to save their own skins.

alt alt

                     ( Infernal Affair Ⅱ )                                    ( infernal Affair Ⅲ )
Hong Kong has dominated the film market of South East Asia for most of the 20th century, and Infernal Affairs continues that success. However, following the mainstream international success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000), not to mention the increased employment of Hong Kong filmmakers by Hollywood, this is only further evidence of this once-vibrant local industry's absorption into the realm of 'world cinema.' Given this change in the political economy of international cinema, Hong Kong films – in production values, storylines, and the language of their dialogue – increasingly anticipate a global audience. The screening of Infernal Affairs in New York then is yet another sign of things to come and the need to ponder an international history of 'post-classical' cinema.

Miramax Films acquired the United States distribution rights of this film and gave it a limited US alttheatrical release in 2004.

The Infernal Affairs series was then remade by Martin Scorsese in 2006 as The Departed, starring Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg. It went on to receive four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, a Best Director win for Scorsese and Best Adapted Screenplay for William Monahan at the 79th Academy Awards becoming the only remake of a foreign film to win Best Picture award.


22nd Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
Best Picture
Best Director - Andrew Lau and Alan Mak                 
Best Screenplay - Alan Mak and Felix Chong                                    ( The Departed )
Best Actor - Tony Leung
Best Supporting Actor - Anthony Wong
Best Editing - Danny Pang and Pang Ching Hei
Best Original Film Song - "Mou Gaan Dou", sung by Tony Leung and Andy Lau

alt40th Annual Golden Horse Awards
Winner - Best Picture
Winner - Best Director (Andrew Lau, Alan Mak)
Winner - Best Actor (Tony Leung)
Winner - Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Wong)
Winner - Best Sound Effects (Kinson Tsang King-Cheung)
Winner - Audience Award

8th Annual Golden Bauhinia Awards
Winner - Best Picture
Winner - Best Director (Andrew Lau, Alan Mak)
Winner - Best Actor (Tony Leung)
Winner - Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Wong)
Winner - Best Screenplay (Alan Mak, Felix Chong)

9th Annual Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards
Best Actor (Anthony Wong)  

Last Updated on Monday, 03 August 2009 09:48

Sponsor Ads