The very first double feature in Cinema 1544 history came on a whim, as Phong decided that rather than pick one movie, he was going to show two – both Hong Kong action pieces. The first (Cheung Foh – “The Mission”) may never come across my DVR. But the second one has turned out to be very popular – even more so after it was remade in the U.S. as a little film known as “The Departed”. Yep, we’re talking about 2002’s Mou Gaan Dou (“Infernal Affairs”), which was directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak.
I can guarantee I can remember the general outline of the plot here, but let’s live-review it anyway!
Oh, lovely. The DVR copy is dubbed. So it goes.
We open with crime kingpin Sam Hong welcoming a batch of young recruits – who have clean records and whom he is sending off to the police academy. As they arrive for basic training, an outstanding legit recruit (Yan) is “kicked out” of the academy – so that he can be sent on a long-term undercover mission to infiltrate the Sam Hong’s organization. (Sound familiar?)
It isn’t terribly long before the police are set to stage a sting on Hong as he receives the – with the police mole Yan as a right-hand man. Of course, Hong’s top mole Lau tips him off and Hong is listening in on the police radio frequency. To sum up, each side (using the assistance of their mole) counters the other side to the extent that both sides realize that there is a mole on each side, and concerted efforts begin to root the moles out.
Lau is forcibly promoted, with his new job being to find Hong’s mole. Meanwhile, Yan is hiding in the back of a theater when Lau and Hong have a clandestine meeting. He doesn’t get a look at Lau, but manages to covertly follow him. Before he can catch a glimpse of Lau, however, he gets a call from Hong and the ring tips Lau off – Yan is forced to abandon the chase.
With the help of a second mole, Yan follows the police captain to a meeting with Yan – and while he doesn’t know who the captain is meeting with on a building rooftop, he sends in his crew to intercept. Yan gets the call from Hong’s gang and they quickly scrub the meeting, going separate ways to avoid being captured together. While Yan gets away, cleverly joining the crew via taxi at the front of the same building, the gang catches the chief, torture him and finally throw him off the roof – right onto the taxi that Yan arrived in.
That’s when things get complicated. Lau is put in charge of finding out who the police chief’s mole is – a perfect situation for him. With all the files related to the police mole encrypted and unbreakable, he uses the dead chief’s cell phone to contact Yan. Through Yan he sets up a sting on Hong that – shockingly – results in Lau himself killing Hong. It appears that Lau has decided to go clean, especially with the heat on him, and Hong is the one thing in his way.
And he would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for those meddling kids! No seriously, after being toasted as the hero for killing Hong, Lau finally manages to get Yan in with the good intention of clearing him from the undercover rolls and restoring his identity. Unfortunately, Yan sees an envelope in Lau’s office that he had written on in Hong’s hideout, and he realizes that Lau must be the mole. He bails out and eventually lures Lau to the top of a building on the pretense of (again) getting his identity back but in fact with the intention of arresting him. And THAT would have worked, if it weren’t for another one of Hong’s moles that Lau didn’t know about. The end result? Mole #2 kills Yan (in a slightly less dramatic elevator scene), Lau kills mole #2, and Lau is once again the hero – and now free and clear. Well, all free and clear except for his conscience. The end.
In a lot of ways, it’s a tighter film than The Departed – it’s not as long, and it doesn’t spend nearly so much time on extraneous characters and events. And the ending is honestly more satisfying than The Departed. There’s something about allowing the bad guy to “win” that just doesn’t play in American cinema, but for this story it really works.