Follow us on

Featured Blu-ray Review: Infernal Affairs

November 14th, 2011

Infernal Affairs - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Infernal Affairs was released in its native Hong Kong in 2002 to much acclaim and was a big box office hit. It was released here in 2004, but while it managed to win over critics, it was never able to find an audience theatrically. In 2006, it was remade as The Departed, which was a huge hit at the box office, earning nearly $300 million worldwide, and during Awards Season, winning four of the five Oscars it was nominated for. Even with that performance, many consider the original to be the better movie. Is that the case? And if so, is the Blu-ray worth picking up?

The Movie

The film begins with Hon Sam, a leader of an important triad gang, welcoming the newest group of recruits into the gang, including Lau Kin Ming. Since they are the newest members of the gang, they have clean records and they will be perfect moles in the police force. While Lau Kin Ming is training to be a police officer, he sees Chan Wing Yan being expelled from the police academy for breaking the rules. However, we just saw Chan impress his superiors and we learn he wasn't kicked out, he was given an important undercover assignment. He is to infiltrate gangs, including, eventually, Hon Sam's criminal organization.

We flash forward to ten years later and Chan is having serious trouble maintaining his cover. It's not that the gang suspects he's a cop, he's so deep undercover that only two people know his real identity, and one of them just died. The real problem is that he's having trouble remembering he really is a cop. His undercover assignment was only supposed to last three years, but it has been extended, twice. His contact, Superintendent Wong Chi-shing, says he can retire after this assignment, but he's heard that before.

Meanwhile, Lau has the opposite problem. He's good at being a cop, really good. We see him trick a suspect into giving him his brother's cell phone number and location. He's starting to have doubts about working with Hon Sam. He's also really good at protecting his boss and he helps Hon avoid arrest during a police operation involving a big drug deal with a supplier from Thailand. However, he's so good at giving up-to-the-second information to Hon, that the police realize Hon has a mole in the police. Additionally, Chan is able to give such detailed information to the police, that Hon realizes someone in his organization is an undercover agent.

At this point two things happen. Firstly, Lau and Chan are in a race to figure out who is undercover agent / mole working to take down their boss. Secondly, we run head-first into unacceptable spoiler territory.

Reviewing the original film when the remake is so much better known is a bit of a challenge. It's really easy to say, "If you liked The Departed, you'll like this movie." This would be easy, but also a bit of a cop-out. They are both amazing movies and obviously very similar in plot. There is one major difference, which is actually a surprise twist for The Departed, so if you don't want that movie spoiled, don't read the following. In The Departed, the crime boss was actually trading information to the FBI to avoid jail time. That's not the case in this movie. I'm not sure if this change was for the better. It might have been one surprise twist too many in an already complicated film. In that regard, Infernal Affairs is the better film. Infernal Affairs pays more attention to the psychological toll going undercover has on a person and is, therefore, more of a character drama and less of a crime thriller than The Departed was. On the other hand, I like how the ending of The Departed was handled. It was more of a shock when the undercover cop was shot by the second mole.

So which film is better? I don't know. I know, it's technically my job to make these decisions, but I just can't. The two films are that close in quality. And looking at the evidence, I don't think you can blame me. Infernal Affairs did earn better reviews than The Departed did, but by a statistically insignificant margin. Plus, the remake earned a better average score. There's a lot of mixed signals here as to which one is better and I'm not going to make things any more clear. Both are worth watching. Hell, watch them back-to-back.

One late note: The ending is the original Hong Kong ending and not the one that was used in Mainland China. If you don't know what I'm talking about, good. That means I haven't spoiled anything. If you do know what I'm talking about, you already know what the ending is, so it doesn't matter. In my opinion, the original is better.

The Extras

There is a 15-minute making of featurette, a 6-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and the alternative ending. As for the film's technical presentation, it's a bit mixed. The film has too much grain a little too often, the colors are muted and there's problems with edge enhancement. Some of these problems are the result of aesthetic choices, like the color choices, while others are due weak source material, like the grain. Because of this, you can't blame the Blu-ray and odds are this is as good as it is going to get. The audio is much better, with the original Cantonese track superior to the English dubbed version. Dialogue is clear, there's plenty of ambient sounds, good directional effects, etc. Finally we get to the price, which is just $15. That's an excellent deal for an import and is only about 10% more than the DVD. Easily worth it.

The Verdict

The North American Blu-ray debut for Infernal Affairs is worth picking up for fans of Hong Kong gangster movies and / or fans of The Departed. There are not a lot of extras and the technical presentation won't win awards, but it is still worth the money.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review, Mou gaan dou