Hong Kong Cinema

Infernal Affairs

  • Made: 2002
  • Format: DVD
  • Region: Region 0 PAL
  • Release Date: June 28, 2004
  • Company: Tartan
  • Length: 101 mins
  • Picture: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Language: Cantonese, English Dubbed
  • Extras: Alternative ending, Director's commentary, Behind the scenes, Out-takes, Mini-booklet, Trailers
  • Classification: 15


Andy Lau and Alan Mak


Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Sammi Cheng, Kelly Chen, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang

Infernal Affairs represents Hong Kong 's most significant action film of the last ten years. During this period the legend of John Woo had always cast a dark shadow over any new pretenders to the throne. Many directors offered inferior imitations of the John Woo bullet ballet, and others attempted to innovate without great success. Infernal Affairs offers a fresh take on the John Woo formula that focuses on the relationship between two guys on each side of the law, but more importantly it removes the blood and bullets in favour of intrigue and more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. Since its release in 2002 the film has received unequivocal praise from critics and fans alike, rampaging through the Hong Kong Film Festival Awards, numerous international film festivals. This secured a general release in many English speaking countries and Brad Pitt buying the rights for a Hollywood remake!

The stellar cast includes the two hottest properties in Hong Kong action at the moment, Tony Leung and Andy Lau. Tony Leung has never been far from success ever since his collaborations with John Woo (Bullet in the Head, Hard Boiled) and later works alongside Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Andy Lau has carved out a successful career both sides of the camera with high points in the fascinating As Tears Go By and Full Throttle. As good as these two are, they are supported by the increasingly impressive Eric Tsang and the composed Anthony Wong (not to mention the gorgeous Kelly Chen and Sammi Cheng). The directing team of Andy Lau and Alan Mak head up an extremely polished production in all respects. There is not even a hint of the comparatively small budgets that Hong Kong movies traditionally have to cope with.


The basic plot for Infernal Affairs is extremely simple, there is an undercover cop in the triads and a triad mole in the police force. Throughout the film both come close to revealing the other's identity whilst desperately trying to keeps their own tracks concealed. The pressure continues to build on both protagonists under the scrutiny of their bosses and loved ones. As I mentioned before, there is a Woo-esque tinge to the story as we learn the similarities between the two main characters each side of the law (see The Killer). They both feel the strain of living a lie, constantly under the threat of exposure.

This is supported by a fast paced plot that constantly leaves the viewer guessing. Yan (Tony Leung) has to weave and dodge to avoid the suspicion of the triads, whilst Ming's greatest concern is the scrutiny of his loved one, Mary (Sammi Cheng). Ming learns that his fate is beginning to echo the main character in Mary's book, fleeting between good and evil. However, Ming's true sentiment remains deliciously unclear as his attempts to turn good are never fully explored. Does he want success and promotion in the police force, the renewed respect of Mary, or is he simply tired of the triad life?


Infernal Affairs begins as an engaging movie, with the directors offering glimpses of Ming and Yan's true nature, supported by a series of flashbacks. Everything moves up a gear when the people in the police who know his undercover identity start to dwindle in their number. Suddenly the world begins to close in around Yan suffocating him (and the viewer). Normally this would cue the divisions of SWAT teams clashing against hordes of triads at a factory, church or shipyard, with the lead good guy and bad guy being the last two standing with their twin revolvers twitching in anticipation of a final showdown!



There is a refreshing absence of blood, bullets and mayhem. Lau and Mak display a genuine confidence in the content and stylistic qualities of their work. Infernal Affairs succeeds because it sticks to the timeless maxim that the chase is always better than the kill. They overlook the temptation to resort to violence and cheap explosions, because they have a captivating story and characters. You only realise after leaving the theatre, that you have just seen a Hong Kong action movie with hardly any action! The lack of action allows the film to consider more complex issues than cathartic retribution, and there is a deliberate restraint in the moral teachings that it offers. Do not expect everything to be perfectly wrapped up by the end of the movie, that would have been too easy. Plus, they also needed some ambiguity to fuel the forthcoming prequel and sequel!


As would be expected from such a recent film, the picture is a crisp and clean 16:9 anamorphic presentation with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. There is a host of extras alongside the dual language options. Overall, this is a very professional release from Tartan video, who have not been so kind with some films in the past. The UK version boasts an alternative ending, director's commentary plus behind the scenes / out-takes and mini-booklet.


Infernal Affairs is an irrefutable success for all concerned. It won seven awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards and six at the Golden Horse awards. It took HK $55,000,000 in 2002, which was 16% of the domestic revenue generated at the HK box office! Infernal Affairs 2 and 3 have a great deal to live up to, but the omens are certainly good. This is the perfect tonic to much of the same-same canto-pop nonsense that has been cluttering the jade screen for the past decade. This film dares to stand out from the crowd and do something different.

Jackie Chan once remarked on how he managed to emerge from Bruce Lee's shadow:

"When he kick high, I kick low. When he not smiling, I always smiling. He can one-punch break the wall; after I break the wall, I hurt. I do the funny face."

Infernal Affairs has done the same to emerge from the bullet-ridden world of Hong Kong cinema. Whereas John Woo and Ringo Lam would have sent their lead through the front door, twin revolvers blazing, Lau and Mak ensure their lead leaves covertly through the back exit to fight another day.