Movie News & Reviews

Inspiration for 'Departed' an elegant thriller

At heart, I think all of us want to be a criminal. If I'm just wrongand that's just me, then I amend my statement to say we all want to becops--I don't even know what crimes are, let alone how one "commits"them--but there's got to be something to explain the enduring appealof crime stories.

Like that they're awesome. I spend the first three hours ofevery day dreaming about robbing imagination-banks. Judging by theprevalence of incredible thrillers like 2002's InfernalAffairs, I'm not the only one with law-scoffing on the mind.

Andy Lau and Tony Leung are men with double lives: Lau is a policeinspector, but secretly works for Triad crime boss Eric Tsang; as adeep undercover cop, Leung has to live the part of one of Tsang'sthugs. After the details of a drug deal are tipped to both cops andcrooks, Lau and Leung are each tasked with ferreting out the otherside's mole.

That concept is so good if it were a car it would run on condensedlove and could also fly. It's so good the American remake of it,The Departed, won about 287 Oscars. I would propose to thatidea if I thought I was good enough for it. Execute it with anycompetence at all and you're looking at a kingly picture.

Codirectors Wai-keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak do better than that. LikeThe Departed, Infernal Affairs starts with an extendedsemi-montage that immediately commands the attention.

Confident and propulsive, that masterful beginning leads into a leanplot that never slows down to explain any more than it needs to. Itshould be confusing, but its directors seem to have an intuitive graspon the details they need to include to prevent viewers' brains fromblasting question marks out their ears. Leung's internalizedperformance takes the same angle, suggesting the emotional turmoil thefilm doesn't really have time to dig into.

I was less struck by Infernal Affairs' score. It's mostly cool,but at a couple romantic moments it drops into a melodramatic swoonthat's miles away from the caged energy of the rest of the movie. It'slike getting a tiger with an eyepatch and one stub ear but then oneday a month you dress it up in a bonnet and a diaper. Littlediscordant, that's all.

That's about the only wrong note here (self-high five on that pun).Otherwise, Infernal Affairs is a tight, elegant thriller. AsLeung and Lau try desperately to hold on to who they were, it becomesa quiet tragedy, too.