Lionsgate // 2002 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 15th, 2011
Loyalty. Honor. Betrayal.
Splashed on the disc case: "The motion picture that inspired The Departed." Phooey. It should read: "The motion picture that was so awesome Hollywood decided to do remake and missed the point."
In the endless battle between the police and the Triads, the bigshots on each side have launched ambitious new offensives: the Triad boss has planted a mole into the police department and, likewise, the cops have an agent so far undercover he hasn't been above board in ten years. The gang's agent: Lau (Andy Lau, House of Flying Daggers). The cops': Yan (Tony Leung, Hero). Both working from the inside to squash the plans of their opponents, until they eventually discover each other's existence. And then it becomes a high stakes cat and mouse chase and one of the deep cover agents will go native and change everything.
Infernal Affairs is a modern crime masterpiece and just about as flawless a cop thriller as you'll find, foreign or domestic. A lot of the ink spilled about it has been in relation to its inspiration of The Departed and while I enjoy that movie a good deal I am firmly in the camp of "the original was superior."
Andy Lau and Tony Leung, two of Asia's most skilled actors, are at the height of their powers here, and so much of the tension that is sewn into Infernal Affairs is generated by the heat the two put on each other. Leung's Yan is an exercise in despair conflicted with duty; he's made remarkable inroads into the Triads and because of his achievement, he's damned to a life of dangerous solitude. On the flipside, Lau has been dealt a better hand, working from a position of power and significantly less threat of maiming. On the surface, it appears Lau has the cushier gig, but an internal conflict of loyalty soon arises and that's what propels the two on a journey to rub the other one out.
Plot-wise I'll leave it at that, just in case you've managed to elude this film's orbit. Infernal Affairs boasts a series of high-tension set-pieces that are the gold standard for crime suspense and the finale is iconic.
There are similarities to The Departed for sure -- big ones actually -- but somewhere along the translation Scorcese left out what made Infernal Affairs so memorable: the optimism. Despite its gritty, sometimes graphic nature and the heavy-duty subject matter it traffics in, Infernal Affairs provides a deceptively cheery interpretation of the human condition. Specifically, men can be swayed by good, just as they can be corrupted by evil.
Okay, now I'm done. Just go find this movie as soon as possible and watch it.
The Blu-ray is, unfortunately, not worthy of such a high-end feature. The 2.35:1/1080p transfer has its moments, but it's softer than I would have liked and, to be honest, negligible in its improvement. The video quality strikes me as closer to an upconverted DVD more than top-shelf Blu-ray. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks (English and Cantonese) perform better, offering a robust mix that pounds nicely during the action. Extras are recycled: two making-of featurettes and an alternate ending that would have totally ruined the film.
Three small nits to pick: 1) the soundtrack can be out of place, 2) the hand-holding flashbacks are overused, and 3) the Triad leader comes across as goofy more than sinister.
Now's as good a time as any to see what all the fuss is about. The Blu-ray is an underperformer, but if you're going to buy the movie anyway...
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Cantonese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending