Director: Andrew Lau/Alan Mak (2002)
A considerably realistic production, the appearance of Infernal Affairs illustrates there's life still in the cops and robbers theme, complete with superb cinematography and pixel-level detail to deliver its load of gangland complications. Actors hardly don any makeup, and color schemes do little to airbrush the world as we know it.
What Infernal doesn't possess in generous quantities, however, is a compelling story. Basically, this is a moderately satisfying role reversal tale, with seemingly nice guy Ming (Andy Lau) actually a mob agent working inside Hong Kong's Organized Crime and Triad Bureau. Conversely, miscreant Yan (Tony Leung) just so happens to be a die-hard clean cop, operating under deep cover in crooked boss Sam's outfit. Both have been groomed for their roles since an early age, going back to police academy days.
As Ming and Yan become entangled in the quickening plot, one realizes Infernal went for a more thoughtful demeanor. Few bullets fly around, yet each one counts, and there's none of that John Woo-style double-barrel, infinite ammo massacre.
Leung and Lau are swiftly joined by singing sensations Sammi Cheng (once more into the fray as Andy's girl) plus a smaller contribution from trusty Kelly Chen (strangely cast as Yan's psychologist friend). However, Infernal is definitely a man's movie, with females relegated to background prop status - particularly enraging given that gorgeous Elva Hsiao (Xiao Ya Xuan) was left to languish in a bit part in her much-vaunted cinematic debut.
It's the seasoned veterans who add flavor to proceedings. Dapper competent Anthony Wong (Superintendent Wong) together with Eric Tseng (as criminal boss Sam) nicely augment an all-star ensemble. If they weren't enough for you name droppers, we're graced with cameos by upcoming wonders Edison Chen and Shawn Yue as young Lau and Leung, respectively.
Despite some reservations, Infernal Affairs does an above average job. Film appreciators will likely lap up its sophisticated technical aspects, while most others should enjoy a smoothly mature, albeit conventional, ride. The main gripe, though, is the use of sublime advertising for Motorola cell phones that could have easily been done away with. It's a crime epic: stick to guns.
(cityweekend.com.cn February 12, 2004)