I first saw Wu jian
Affairs) about a year ago on an all-region DVD, after having
been inundated with mountains of hype. The word on this 2002 Hong Kong film was
nothing short of miraculous: that it was the crime drama of the new
millennium, a modern classic, that the new film from directors Wai Keung Lai and
Siu Fai Mak represented the new face of cinema emerging from
What a difference a year makes! I'm glad I gave the film another chance. Liberated from its hype (and me, allegedly having gotten over the breakup), Infernal Affairs is a crackerjack film, a smart, slick, and compelling drama that is more Michael Mann than John Woo. Those who are expecting a thrill-a-minute action flick will be sorely disappointed, but if you are looking for a smartly written, eminently engaging, and well-acted crime drama that entertains from first frame to final credit, this is your movie.
The film's central conceit is a novel one: HK Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and Triad crime boss Sam (Eric Tsang) are both poised in endless struggle against the other. Almost simultaneously, they both plan the same tactic: plant a mole in the other's organization. Wong selects promising cadet Chan Wing Yan (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) as his mole, having him "kicked out" of the academy in order to infiltrate Sam's gang. Meanwhile, Sam arranges for a handful of his younger bangers, those who have no criminal records, to enlist in the police academy. The most successful of his enlistees is Lau Kin Ming (Andy Lau), who successfully works his way up in the force to the point where he works directly under Wong himself.
have a gangster working as a mole in the police force, and a policeman working
undercover as a Triad gang member. We also have their respective bosses who are
both aware of moles in their own organizations, determined to find out who they
are. And we have two men deeply undercover, each of them going through their own
harangues. Yan wants out of his arrangement, having lived a lie for years and
simply wanting his true identity back. His only real moments of truth come with
his secret meetings with Wong and his therapy sessions with Dr. Lee (Kelly
Chen). Lau, on the other hand, is having a conscience of crisis. His own sense
of identity is compromised as well, finding himself identifying more with the
"good guys" and living a life of secrets from his girlfriend Mary (Sammi Cheng).
With both the police and the gangs clamping down on the moles in their
organizations, Lau and Yan are forced to play both sides against each other and
reevaluate their respective identities.
Affairs is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio
of approximately 2.35:1, and has been anamorphically-enhanced for your
widescreen-viewing enjoyment. Edge-enhancement, thy presence is fully detectable
in the opening shots. Take a look at the halos around that screaming statue.
of which are visible throughout the transfer, but such a
blatant example at the very beginning of the video cannot be a good
sign. Color levels are stable and well rendered, while sharpness levels are average
but adequate. The video seems a little grainy and,
at times, a tad noisy, but overall the look of the film is
acceptable if problematic.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film is presented in both its original Cantonese soundtrack language, as well as an English dub (also in DD 5.1). The dub has clearer and brighter dialog levels, but anyone who would prefer to listen to a dub over the OSL is visiting the wrong DVD website. There is some noticeable separation and discrete imaging throughout the transfer, but given that the film is mostly dialog-drive the bulk of the soundtrack is squarely located frontstage. There is some fine LFE work done, used sparingly but effectively, often jarringly. Witness the scene during which a character falls on a car; the resulting "THOOMF" sent my cat into convulsions and I spilled the most perfect mug of Ovaltine ever mixed. Nice work.
aren't many extras of note. We start out with the 15-minute The Making
of Infernal Affairs, a detailed look at the film's
characters and themes as delivered by the cast and filmmakers. The entire main
cast offers their thoughts on the production, and while it's somewhat
informative the feature is altogether too short. Plus it spends a good 4 minutes
simply replaying scenes from the movie. Even less interesting is
Confidential File: Behind-The-Scenes Look At Infernal
Affairs, which simply strings together some on-set video footage
without any general thrust or purpose. There is a 4 minute alternate
ending which doesn't work as well as the theatrical ending. I can see
why they passed on this one. There are also
two trailers: the international trailer and the
original Chinese trailer. Finally,
Infernal Affairs is a great film, a powerful piece of work, and one of the most compelling crime dramas released over the past decade. You'd never know it, though, judging by how it was dumped onto DVD by Miramax. I mean, look at that cover! It screams cheesy C-level flick, featuring an actress who has maybe 2 scenes in the movie, neither of which involves a gun, violence, or bad-ass attitude. The workmanlike transfer and minimal extras don't help, either. Still, the quality of the film alone gives this DVD a Recommended rating, although true fans should splurge for the Limited Edition 8-DVD set (which features Infernal Affairs, Infernal Affairs II, and Infernal Affairs III, as well as a full disc of extras and a re-edited 300 minute version of the trilogy.)