Before sharing my experiences with Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs, I would like to recommend it. It reignited my appreciation for crime-thriller films through the rapidity with which the film handled themes such as deceit, hypocrisy, and internal conflict, with the vast Hong Kong skyline as its’ backdrop.
The film begins with the implantation of Chen Wing-yan, as well as Inspector B and Lau Kin-ming into the Hong Kong mafia and the Hong Kong Police Force, respectively. Thus is emphasized the element of deceit, upon which both the “good” forces and the “evil” forces seem to be operating, blurring the lines of morality. As the two progress in their careers, these blurred lines are crossed repeatedly; the mise-en-scene of Chen testing prohibited drugs for Hon Sam emphasizing his crossover from the moral to the immoral to protect his identity. Similarly, the mise-en-scene of Lau pretending to be a lawyer to obtain critical information from an apprehended gangster emphasizes his own crossover from immoral to moral, and back over to the immoral, by concealing his identity from the criminal.
Perhaps Lau is the biggest antagonist of the film; bigger than Hon Sam as a result of the hypocrisy with which he kills both Hon Sam and Inspector B, and destroys Chen’s original identity. Though Hon is a more obvious hypocrite, praying at Buddhist temples while organizing all kinds of criminal activities, the rebelliousness with which Lau handled the deaths and lives of all three emphasizes his loyalty to himself as the most important.This is unlike the loyalty with which Chen, Wong, Inspector B and Keung worked as policemen and henchmen. Though Lau mirrors Chen in character as intelligent, perceptive, with an almost chameleon-like ability to adapt to an environment, Chen’s sense of loyalty to the police force is more emphasized. So are his aggressive, violent, anger-related tendencies, as seen in the mise-en-scene of Superintendent Wong lecturing Chen, asking him whether he’d truly “lost his mind” struggling with his two identities. This lecture emphasized the internal conflict the two faced when interpolating between the moral and the immoral, and which possibly led to the two attempting to redeem themselves by going after both Hon Sam, and each other.
However, a mutual respect was also observed between the two. The mise-en-scene of Lau attending Chen’s funeral is almost reminiscent of Zhang Yimou’s Hero, where the lead character was executed and given a hero’s burial by his executioner. Even though Chen was required to conceal his identity as a cop, the mise-en-scene of him approaching Superintendent Wong’s dead body despite the onslaught of bullets emphasized his sorrow. Wong’s death embodied the theme of sacrifice, as did the duality of Chen and Lau’s lives, who had sacrificed entire personalities to abide by their duties. Although I am not incredibly sure whether Keung was truly a cop, or simply one of Hon’s henchmen, his sacrifice for Chen, similar to Inspector B’s “sacrifice” for Lau to protect their identities emphasized this.
Infernal Affairs revealed (to its’ non-local audiences) a status quo of Hong Kong that was riddled with organized crime, pervading its’ sociopolitical and economic structure. The tenuous relationship law enforcement and organized crime share is best emphasized through the mise-en-scene of Hon and Wong’s heated encounter at the police station. It also revealed a relatively traditional zeitgeist; Lau was advised to get married quickly as to earn a good promotion. Unfortunately, women played very little roles in shaping the plot of the film, and were somewhat objectified by Hon. However, the roles they did play were more feminist, and somewhat leadership-oriented. Hopefully their roles are more substantial in the sequel, which Infernal Affairs has me itching to watch.