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Infernal Affairs

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // R // December 7, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted December 31, 2004 | E-mail the Author

The Movie

I first saw Wu jian dao (Infernal 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 Hong Kong, etc. I sat down to watch the film and was singularly unimpressed; that is to say, I thought it was a good film -- often a really good film -- but far from great. Granted, much of that had to do with the fact the night before I watched the film I had just gone through a pretty excruciating breakup with my girlfriend of six years, so I was hardly in the best and most attentive of moods.

What a pantywaist. Anyway, I liked the movie but didn't love it, yet the film stayed firmly planted in my mind for months afterward. And since the North American distribution rights were tightly clenched in the clueless grip of Mira-What the hell are we supposed to do with all these Asian movies?!-max, I was appreciative of just getting a chance to see the movie at all. I mean, we could have had another Hero-styled fiasco on our hands. Thankfully, Miramax gave the film an (extremely) limited window in theaters and released the film on North American DVD soon afterwards.

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.

We 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.

Infernal Affairs is a powerful film, no question about it. It builds up to a powerful crescendo that is littered with tension, longing, and regret, blurring the boundaries between authority and outlaw by filtering both roles through their opposite perspectives.



Infernal 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. More 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.


There 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, Sneak Peaks contains trailers for Hero, Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman, and Miramax 25th Anniversary.  

Final Thoughts:

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.)

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