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Infernal Affairs

Posted by martinteller on February 18, 2013

Probably most people reading this already know that this is the film that Martin Scorsese remade into The Departed.  I started watching it once about 8-9 years ago and for whatever reason wasn’t in the mood at the time.  Since then I’ve seen Scorsese’s film twice.  My original intention for this review was not to draw comparisons, but I think in this case I gotta go with my nature.

Maybe it’s true that in any original vs. remake situation, I’m usually going to prefer whichever one I saw first (as long as that reaction was positive).  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any examples that went the other way for me.  I prefer Niblo’s Ben-Hur to Wyler’s more celebrated version, and Buñuel’s Wuthering Heights to Wyler’s more celebrated version (I should say I generally like Wyler)… I even prefer Soderbergh’s Solaris to Tarkovsky’s.  All cases where I saw the so-called “lesser” version first.

And yeah, I prefer The Departed.  I know it’s typically considered second-tier Scorsese, a “good but not great” film that was tossed an Oscar bone to atone for past transgressions.  In my opinion, it’s his best, most compelling film since Goodfellas.  Meanwhile, Infernal Affairs is considered a giant of Hong Kong cinema.  A recent poll of “The Best Hong Kong Films Ever” placed it at #2 (just behind Chungking Express).  It’s had a solid place in the IMDb top 250 for as long as I can remember.

And let’s give credit where credit is due: the original certainly gets props for coming up with such a clever, intricate script.  Scorsese copies most of it, the most significant change being the conflation of the two female leads (this is one area where I prefer the original… making them the same person is just tacking on a dumb twist in a movie that has more than enough smart twists).  Scorsese also fleshes it out with more detail, his film being about 50 minutes longer.  Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is up to the individual.  You could definitely argue that the original is more economical, and I’d agree.

But I like all that extra detail.  I enjoy the performances and the situations a lot, and I’ve never felt Scorsese’s film was “too long”.  Andy Lau and Tony Leung are slick as hell, I’d like to see more of them too.  But I also wouldn’t say IA isn’t long enough.  Both movies feel the right length.  Where IA comes up a little short for me is some of the bits are pretty cheesy.  When a major character gets killed, it goes into slo-mo and montages and tinkly music.  The Buddhist phrases opening and closing the film are a bit hokey.  There’s a couple of other little moments where the cheese factor is turned up.  It’s nothing major, but it’s part of the reason why I rate The Departed a little bit higher.

It’s still a highly enjoyable film, with great performances (I really loved Chapman To as Eric Tsang’s top henchman), tight plotting and intriguing material about identity, loyalty and morality.  It’s slick and stylish and memorable.  I’d say fans of either should see both.  They complement each other well.  But if I had to choose only one, maybe it’s heresy in some cinephile circles, but I’ll take Scorsese’s.  Rating: Very Good (85)

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2 Responses to “Infernal Affairs”

  1. I’ve been pretty vocal in my dislike of the Scorsese remake throughout the years. It’s bloated and way too melodramatic/hammy for my liking. It’s from a period in Scorsese’s career that I’m not too fond of, basically everything post Goodfellas I find to be very miss with only a few decent films in the mix. However, Infernal Affairs is one of my all time favorite thrillers, it’s a master class in taut filmmaking. Eric Tsang is the standout performance wise, as his bad guy is such a great bad guy.

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