Infernal Affairs (HK 2002)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 3/11/06
Director: Andrew Lau
Cast: Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Sammi Cheng, Kelly Chan

An intense crime drama featuring some of the best actors in Hong Kong. Sam (Eric Tsang) is a ruthless Triad boss who has planted Lau (Andy Lau) in the police force as a mole. At the same time, Superintendant Wong (a refined Anthony Wong) has placed an undercover agent named Yan (Tony Leung) in Sam's gang. The stakes increase as the cat-and-mouse game intensifies and loyalties are tested.

Not at all what I was expecting, but it proves that director Andrew Lau is actually capable of making a decent film, as opposed to his previous melodramatic effects laden pulp fantasy pieces. Lau, Leung, Wong, and Tsang give wonderfully subdued performances, full of unspoken depth and intensity. Sadly, pop stars Sammi Cheng and Kelly Chan are relegated to thankless window dressing cameos as the leads' respective love interests. A superbly crafted film, but sorely lacking in the action department. However, "Infernal Affairs" never claimed to be an action film, and that's just a false expectation that I had. Interestingly, the domestic release comes with an alternate ending that emphasizes poetic justice and karma, and brings the film to an abrupt halt like you would expect from a Hong Kong film. The ending used in the American version is longer, more melodramatic, and creates a feel-good sense of redemption and renewal. It would be interesting to know which ending the director intended to use, as international releases often times feature "happier" resolutions than films targeted for Chinese audiences. Did the original Hong Kong release feature the "tragic" ending, or did it test poorly with audiences? Or was this decision solely made by Miramax? Speaking of Miramax, they must be reprimanded for their poor packaging of the film, which inexplicably features a sexy picture of a girl with a gun on the cover. Not only is this actress/model not in the film, but there are no girls with guns in the movie, or really even any women at all. What were they thinking?