Infernal Affairs

Mou Gaan Dou

Can I point my gun at your head for a while? Thanks.

(Mou gaan dou)


dir: Andrew Lau

Infernal Affairs is a slightly better than average movie interesting only in the novelty of its bare-bones premise. As directed by Andrew Lau, it is also a very loud, aggressively overdone movie. Compared with other Hong Kong cop dramas, it’s par for the course, maybe even better than most, yet I do have to admit to a certain amount of perplexity as to why cult audiences went bugfuckingly crazy over it and why they’re going to remake it in Hollywood starring people with remodelled teeth and $500 haircuts.

Why? It’s really not that clever. Or maybe it is and I just can’t see it. I’ve seen so many Hong Kong flicks over the years that it takes something extraordinary to jiggle my brain meats into ecstatic praise. I definitely can’t muster any excitement for this hack job of a movie, though it was mildly entertaining, I’ll give it that.

Most HK flicks are trashy, let’s be honest. As a fan of the cinema, I say that without any animus towards the region or the people that make or star in these films. If anything I have a bias in their favour, ignoring their shortcomings and excusing aspects that would make me scream bloody blue murder in a different context.

Andrew Lau (the director) and Andy Lau the actor are apparently two completely separate people. The directing Lau has been responsible for some of the best and worst recent Hong Kong films, everything from the Young and Dangerous series, to one of my personal favourites, The Storm Riders. He’s also made a lot of crap, in the same way that all Hong Kong directors make crap films with a ratio of 5 crap films to 1 good film. Quality control is virtually an unheard of concept in the former colonies.

Before people start shooting themselves in the head due to a deep fear that I’m going to continue giving a potted history of Hong Kong cinema and everything it means to me for at least another 2000 words, despair no further, dearest brethren and sistren. The film is a trifle, a flossy treat forgotten as it’s being consumed, though a film certainly not without merit, and when seen within the context of HK cinema seems doubly surprising as to the interest it has generated.

The plot is so simple that a person working in advertising could even understand it: one guy who is a neophyte Triad gangster is sent by his boss to become a cop in the HK police force (Ming, played by Andy Lau). Another guy (Yan, played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai, not to be confused with Tony Leung Ka Fai), a young policeman is sent undercover within the Triads. Many, many years pass, and the two men rise in their respective organisations until the point is reached where their ‘work’ objectives bring them into direct conflict with each other. Their goal: find out who the other one is and beat them to death with puppies.

They both inadvertently have the same boss, both in terms of the Triads, Sam (Eric Tsang, who usually plays comedic roles) and in the police force, Wong (played by Anthony Wong, who seems to be in every single Hong Kong film made since the 80s). Thus begins the game of cat and mouse, near misses and thrilling bits where they’re both almost caught as the film pole-vaults its way to an unexpected conclusion, at least by me.

The pacing is usually break-neck, with the odd moments of quiet conversation and introspective claptrap. That’s not to say that it’s mostly action: it’s certainly not. After a reasonably energetic opening the film mostly has scenes of people looking at files in an intense manner or having conversations with people who predict dire outcomes for the spies when they’re finally caught. Thrilling stuff.

Yan sits around moping, having headaches and growing his natty facial hair. His only desire is to be free of this awful undercover work which robs him of a real life and of his identity. Ming seems far more comfortable in the police world than he does as a gangster, and doesn’t seem to have any difficulty with the schizophrenic life that he leads, though his girlfriend picks up on it and keeps making oblique remarks to a character in her novel who barely knows who he is because of the multiple identities he has to adopt. Hey, it’s a problem for her maybe, but he seems to be doing nicely, thanks for asking.

I’ve loved Tony Cheung ever since I saw him in Hard Boiled oh so many years ago, which still ranks as one of my favouritest action films ever. Western audiences might know him from such blockbusters as In the Mood for Love and Happy Together, two Wong Kar Wai films from a while ago that did a roaring trade. Speaking of ‘roaring trade’, a local and very well respected newspaper and magazine film critic made the astounding error of telling readers that they should hop along to see this movie since it represents the last film role of Tony Cheung’s life since he committed suicide last year. It might come as something of a surprise to said film critic Adrian Martin that he has somehow mistaken Tony Cheung for his co-star in Happy Together, Leslie Cheung, who’s actually the one that committed suicide last year by flinging himself from the top of a hotel. I’m sure Tony Cheung’s relieved to find out that he’s alive as well. As for Adrian Martin, well, I’m sure to him they must all look the same.

Actors, that is.

As much as I might like Tony, he sleepwalks his way through this one. About his only contribution is the facial hair he grows, which is quite novel. His character shows no identification with the people he has worked with for something like 10 years, and shows no other adverse symptoms of having been a criminal (who doubtless would have been called upon to do some very nasty things during his ‘career’). As with many HK flicks that play around in the same sandpit, everything except action is treated with superficiality and sentimentality. Big gooey drops of sentimentality.

Andy Lau, on the other hand, an actor I generally dislike, is pretty good. He gets the less sympathetic but more enjoyable role, and possibly the more complex one. The idea, for audiences, of a cop being undercover is nothing new. The idea of the Triads sending one of their brethren and planting them in the police force in order to benefit their organisation many years down the track is somewhat fresher, and interesting in the way that finding someone’s lipstick on your partner’s underwear is interesting. It makes you wonder. Hmmm.

He plays it well, very well. He also helps sell the ending, which is deliciously ironic on some levels, and flat out unbelievable on others, especially since you’d have to believe the cops are morons, I mean complete morons to not analyse any of the physical evidence at the scene after a multiple fatality shooting. Still, it’s a superb ending, which I can rarely say for most films, whether they be from Hong Kong, Kansas or Mullumbimby. And that’s got to be a good thing.

Anthony Wong playing, um, Wong is really good. He neither overacts, which he can usually be counted on to do, nor does he bore his way through the flick. Considering he’s seems to be in something like 20 films a year, I guess we can cut the guy some slack if he’s less than ecstatic in some of the dire roles he plays.

The female characters in this are mere window-dressing to remind us that our main characters are Definitely Not Gay. They are attractive but useless with nothing substantial to do. Kind of like UN Peacekeepers.

It’s reasonably well filmed, not especially flashy, as I said before it’s not an action flick. If anything, excluding the first half hour which matches abrupt edits with a painfully noisy guitar heavy soundtrack, the film is all ‘drama’ but light on its feet. Excluding the brutal murder of one of the main characters, of course, but other than that it’s kiddie friendly.

If it has only one fundamental flaw, it’s the idea that these guys fresh out of the police academy / Triad gangster school take up their respective roles, and then continue to play these roles for, what, twenty years or so? Tony and Andy are in their mid to late forties. Are we supposed to buy that their characters were in their late twenties in the film? I’m not sure. Let me check my coke-bottle glasses and see if there’s some crap on the lenses, because maybe my eyesight’s not that sharp. I mean, the guys looked like they were a few years away from collecting a pension, that’s all I’m saying.

As mildly entertaining as it was, still, it’s a fucking simplistic story. The rumours that it’s going to be remade in Hollywood with people like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise to star and someone unbelievable like Martin Scorsese to direct. If this is true then it shows how desperately short of ideas the dream factory of Hollywood truly is, because, seriously guys, it’s not that amazing a premise.

If they’re so desperate for ideas, then I’ve got another doozy of an original story to pitch to the studios: it’s about a cop who’s good at his job who gets framed for a crime he did not commit. They kill the woman he loves, and then, get this, he becomes an outlaw hunting outlaws! Trying to clear his name, he goes through at least 1 strip club and threatens at least one druggie snitch who gives up the goods on the guy who set him up, who turns out to be, get this, his oldest friend in the police force! I just know that I’m going to have people knocking down my door for that one. Interested execs can contact me through the website, with messages written on the backs of six figure cheques, with the actual ink being the blood of a virgin. Don’t pretend you don’t want it. Anyone working for Fox need not apply.

6 times I actually think The Departed is a better film out of 10

"What thousands must die, so that Caesar may become great." Infernal Affairs