The Portrayal of the Undercover Cop and Gangster Mole in Infernal Affairs

The plot of Infernal Affairs, admittedly, does not break away from local cop/mob or undercover genre conventions, but it does stand above others in character portrayal and story development. The underlying questioning the blurred cop/mob line, particularly, leaves something to ponder.

Andy Lau and Tony Leung respectively plays the gangster mole Lau Kin-ming and the undercover cop Chan Wing-yan. Though supposedly the very opposite of each other, they are, in essence, mirrored twins who are doomed to live the same double life and shuttle between their real self and disguised ones. The portrayal of the antagonists in fact represents the conflict between determinism and freewill. Leung is forced to become an undercover cop, so, pretending to be the "bad" guy, he is in fact the "good" one. Lau, on the other hand, as a gangster mole in the police force, pretends to be a "good" guy. But is he irreversibly bad? As Eric Tsang tells the young gangsters who are about to enroll into the police as a mole, "It is your own choice!" But is it? It will not be an exaggeration to say that, casting-wise and production-wise, Infernal Affairs is the most serious film of the year.

The exploration of appearance and reality, good and evil, rivals John Woo's Face/Off. Lau's struggle between his two identities is a much more complex issue. It is obvious that Leung wants to resume his true identity, but Lau's consideration is not a matter of resumption but which identity is the best to his advantage. To the scriptwriter's credit, this is a breakthrough in the conventional good-versus-evil morality of cop/mob films. The film, through Lau and Leung's squaring off in their battle of wits, the precisely calculated parallel editing and the superb acting, revives confidence in local cinema.

Cinematographer-turned- director Andrew Lau deliberately floods the film in a bluish tone, contributing to the tragic, no-way-out atmosphere in the cop/mob world. No praise is too high for the playing of Eric Tsang and Anthony Wong in this film; they are simply flesh-and-blood on the screen. The film proves that the cop/mob genre in local cinema is far from over. The question lies in making a serious production with an engaging story. This film offers invaluable lessons for future productions.

By William Cheung

(Translated by Teri Chan)

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