Infernal Affairs

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/07/04 00:37:23

"The sequel can't come fast enough."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

“Infernal Affairs” has one of those ingenious set-ups that gets thriller fans itching with anticipation: the police force and the local mob both have moles working inside each others’ forces. And both moles, having built up trust behind enemy lines, have been put in charge of finding out who the mole is. In other words, while they’re busy trying to figure out who each other is, they’re also busy trying to figure out how not to give themselves away. Hot damn, this is gonna get good.

The great thing here is that the pay-off is every bit as good as the set-up, no small feat considering that the film arrives Stateside on a wave of massive hype. It’s worth the wait. Every bit as good as you may have heard, the film has all the sheen of a classic John Woo picture, only without being a rip-off of that style of shoot-’em-up. In fact, there’s relatively little violence and gunplay here compared to most Asian actioners, and the movie relishes instead in the hook of the suspense.

Consider the sequence in which a major drug deal’s about to go down, and the cops are slowly moving in. Lau (Andy Lau) is the top cop who’s secretly working for kingpin Sam (Eric Tsang); he keeps trying to sneak away to send messages to his boss about what his other boss is planning. Meanwhile, Sam’s right hand man, Yan (Tony Leung), is in reality an in-too-deep undercover agent, who’s somehow cluing police chief Wong (Anthony Wong) in on Sam’s next moves. With Sam and Wong looking closely over their shoulders, will either get nabbed? Will either mole discover the other?

Directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak wind the tension here so tightly that it’s ready to crack, and the resulting scene keeps us inching ever closer to the screen, lest we miss the next play in this clever game. The screenplay (by Mak and Felix Chong), direction, and, above all, editing (courtesy Danny Pang and Ching Hai Pang) are all airtight, and the movie simply crackles with the kind of excitement action freaks love. And the movie’s full of scenes like this, showstoppers that grab you but good.

Wisely, the screenplay opts to give Lau and Leung plenty of character on which they can chew away. Both Yan and Lau are the conflicted types, moles torn between the good and bad sides of themselves they must juggle. Yeah, this gets a wee cheesy in spots (mostly thanks to some awkward flashbacks), and the “conflicted undercover guy” is a bit too familiar to movie audiences by now, but the leading men are able to add an exciting freshness to the roles; because of them, the film’s every bit as addictive in the down time as it is during the slam-bang bits.

The best way, then, to describe “Infernal Affairs” is to say that this is the type of movie Asian action fans talk about when they say they love the genre. Intelligent, stunning, thrilling entertainment. And while the final scenes have a drag to them that doesn’t quite mesh, they do manage to set up the as-yet-unreleased-in-the-States sequels. And yeah, by the time this one’s over, you’ll be amped up to see the rest of the trilogy. Can’t wait.

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