Infernal Affairs is that compelling, complex film that Martin Scorcese picked up and remade recently. You may have heard about it. Well, the original film is really good. It even worked better that its remake on a number of levels.
After seeing how successful Infernal Affairs was at juggling its many unexpected plot turns and character interactions, I became even more convinced that the plot and characters in The Departed are underminded by the unstoppable force of movie star power. Where The Departed is a self-conscious spectacle, Infernal Affairs gets under the skin so that you lose yourself in it – so that what you are watching is not filtered through the awareness that you are watching a MOVIE. Infernal Affairs is studded with Chinese movie stars that I am not familiar with, and so, a Chinese audience might experience something similar to an American’s experience of Scorcese’s version. And yet, the actors are more muted in The Chinese film compared to the American version, creating a more human level of emotion and tension compared to The Departed’s raw, loud, expletive-burdened performances. The energy of The Departed – as a story – is dissipated, with every actor working as if they are the primary focus of any given scene.
The Departed follows the basic plot of Infernal Affairs more that I would have expected, with some of the same moments of violence and character interactions. There are complex cat-and-mouse games in which the audience has privileged information, and yet we are always kept on our toes as we try follow the characters and their numerous moments of revelation. Infernal Affairs has more layers of intrigue in the scene toward the beginning where the mob is negotiating a massive drug deal with a group of foreign dealers. Where The Departed gives its undercover cop a cell phone and text-message capability, Infernal Affairs has its undercover cop using a wire tap and Morse code messages. At the same time, the mafia mole embedded in the police force is also wearing a wire, so that the mafia boss is able to anticipate each move that the police authorities make. It is a yin-yang spiral that is dizzying to follow, and yet the complex scene is tight and focused.
The Departed would have already been a overloaded even without the addition of that unlikely love triangle involving the undercover cop, the mafia mole and the therapist. But The Departed is the more bombastic of the two films, and so, somehow, it is easier to forgive its excesses. Infernal Affairs (the English title clumsily attempting to incorporate Dante’s “Inferno”) is the sleeker film, the more focused film, the more tightly edited film: the film that serves its plot and its characters rather than its actors.