FT Top 100 Films

This is the third time this year I have talked about Infernal Affairs, the first being when it came out here, and the second being about its sequel. And looking at those two reviews I find myself also considering my memories of this(/these) film(s) and wondering if they really are that great. Or if they just happen to be a slightly more extreme and tidy version of Michael Mann’s Heat.

The plot is simple, and wonderfully symmetrical. And perhaps it is this symmetry coupled with the veneer of spiritual Buddhism that might distract the viewer from seeing a gratuitous exploitation movie. Because beyond the admittedly clever and admirable twists and turns of the film there really is nothing going on here. The futility of all of this duplicity (a common theme in many an undercover/spy movie) is hidden in Infernal Affairs, waiting to bop us on the nose at the end. This is made all the more clear that a prequel, set before the tragic events of Infernal Affairs could be possible. It is not that these characters are that interesting, but rather that having so little character they are infinitely malleable. Infernal Affairs 2 makes little sense as backstory to Infernal Affairs, but it has the same sheen of honour, duty and duplicity that its predecessor had and therefore feels like a similar film.

None of this should bother you if you want a bang for your buck. As a head down thriller Infernal Affairs manages to be ridiculously tense and engaging for almost all of its running time. The air of tragedy inhabits the whole piece, speeches about continuous hell are a bit of a giveaway on this front. Nevertheless it is never clear if death for the two leads is the only outcome, and just sticking to its guns to not have the potential happy ending makes it feel grittier for its viewer. A great thriller then, whose pretentions are a mere smoke screen. You could do worse than waste two hour in front of Infernal Affairs, but never forget it will be a waste.