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  •  REVIEW: INFERNAL AFFAIRS TRILOGY

    Infernal Affairs trilogy

    Whack a mole

    The three-part Hong Kong mob informant thriller "Infernal Affairs," much like the revered "Godfather" trilogy, is packed with thrills and intrigue for most of two installments while flattening out in the third.

    By LESLIE (HOBAN) BLAKE
    Offoffoff.com

    Whether viewed singly, in pairs or the full trio, "Infernal Affairs" is a colorful Hong Kong policier with intrigue and surprises at almost every turn. But there is that old law of diminishing returns to think about.

      
    INFERNAL AFFAIRS TRILOGY
    Directed by: Lau Wai Keung, Mak Siu Fai.
    Written by: Felix Chong, Mak Siu Fai.
    Cast: Andy Lau, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Eric Tsang, Kelly Chen, Sammi Cheng, Edison Chen, Shawn Yue, Elva Hsiao, To Man-chat, Lam Ka Tung, Ng Ting Yip, Dion Lam, Keung Wan Chi.
    Cinematography: Lai Yiu-Fai, Lau Wai Keung.
    Edited by: Pang Ching Hei, Danny Pang.
    In Cantonese with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
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     Official site
    While the title and subject (dirty cops) may reference Michael Mann's "Internal Affairs," Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's "Infernal Affairs" is pure Hong Kong in its heritage — albeit with an occasional nod to "The Godfather Trilogy."

    When I first saw Part 1 of the "Infernal Affairs" trilogy at last season's New Directors/New Films Festival, I was blown away, both literally and figuratively. And it's just as powerful on second viewing. Aside from the exotic locale and stars, it moves the formulaic "good cop/dirty cop" scenario far beyond the mere derivative.

    The film's enjoyment might be enhanced by familiarity with such favorite Hong Kong themes as: the depiction of criminal triads (gangs) as warring dysfunctional families (not unlike the Mafia); the importance of a father figure, whether real or as a mentor; and the tradition of myriad moles within both the police and the gangs (with accompanying complications of allegiance).

    Infernal Affairs trilogy  
    And John Woo, Jackie Chan and Jet-Li have brought much of their Hong Kong background to their American films, while learning from such American directors as Brian DePalma ("The Untouchables") and the aforementioned duo of Coppola and Mann.

    But none of this background is necessary to enjoy the series with its many and varied cinematic gifts. "Infernal Affairs" (Part 1) stands as one of the best cop-action-thrillers of the last ten years. The story is simplicity itself. A decade ago, two young men were approached — one by a triad, one by the police — to act as moles in the opposing camps.

    Each is played by a hunky Hong Kong star. Ming (Andy Lau, of "House of Flying Daggers" and no relation to the producer) is the handsome if humorless police mole. Yan (Tony Leung/"Hero") is the hapless gang mole. The penalty for discovery to both men is of course, death.

    Each man also has a mentor. For Ming, it's the jovial, gray-haired triad boss Sam (Eric Tsang), whose avuncular demeanor barely hides his killer's instinct. Conversely Yan works for the upright, staid and distant Inspector Wong (Anthony Wong), who is also the only one who knows his real identity. Whenever Yan tries to quit, Wong pulls him back in. All four actors are superb.

    And that's the basic plot. The higher Ming rises, the lower Yan seems to fall. There are several women in Part 1, but they're about as important as Diane Keaton in "The Godfather, Part 1." And as in that film, moral lines are blurred as the audience is sucked into the criminal mindset. Sides are hard to take — no matter whom you root for, he's a good/bad guy or vice-versa.

    As the death toll rises, Lau and Mak keep us on the edge of our seats for a breathless 98 minutes in a film that's as much choreographed as directed. The brilliant cinematography is also credited to director Andrew Lau (who began as a cinematog on "Chungking Express") in consultation with Christopher Doyle ("Hero," "In the Mood for Love"), one of the best cinematogs in Asian film.

    Ironically the original "Infernal Affairs" was never meant to be part of a larger series, but was so popular at home that a second and then a third were filmed in "Godfather" fashion. And in the same way, the second is an excellent prequel to the first, while the third loses its way.


    Continued: 1 | 2 | 3 | Next

    NOVEMBER 3, 2004
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


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