2. Infernal Affairs/Mou Gaan Dou

Still failing to get out of East Asia here, but in my defense I’d just got a book on Hong Kong cinema out of the library and I’ve wanted to see it for ages. Infernal Affairs is one of those films that’s been recommended to me by so many people that for ages I kept passing it over in the shop because I was sure I already owned it.

It’s very difficult to write about this film without referring to the Hollywood remake The Departed even if only to say; don’t. So I’ll try to keep that bit short…

I should say up front that I’m a bit wary of remakes of ‘foreign language’ language films (it smacks a bit of cultural appropriation and treating your audience as too stupid to watch the original) and tend to avoid dubbed films like the plague (read the subtitles, its not that hard) unless they’re for small children. Also that I never saw The Departed as the consensus among friends ranged from ‘its a good film; till you see the original’ to ‘dear god why?!’. What I have seen of the film, and watching the trailer recently brought home to me, is that its an incredibly white film. It was quite a long trailer I watched and I don’t recall seeing a single African-American or Asian-American actor even in the background. Now, arguably if the main characters were played by Asian-Americans then there’d be arguments for why bother making a remake; but that’s the point. The DVD version available in the UK has an English language soundtrack as an option so I’d presume the US version does too, if you want Infernal Affairs in English you can have it, it comes free with the original. I honestly cannot see a good reason to remake the film, and all the reasons I can for Hollywood to remake it are at best a bit bitter and sceevy (police thrillers are OUR genre, how dare you take our genre and do it better, we’ll remake it and win prizes and that’ll show you) and at worst just plain racist. It makes me twitchy and uncomfortable and I’d really like to pretend The Departed was never made. Having had this realisation about the film I can’t unthink it so now I’ll get that same sceevy feeling every time I encounter a Hollywood remake of an Asian film; but I guess that’s part of the point of this project, to make you think more about these issues. /rant.

For all that Infernal Affairs wears it’s Hollywood influences with a certain amount of pride (there is a certain feel that they’ve gone ‘this is what I like about our film tradition, this is what I like about your film tradition; now I’m going to put them together and make something even better‘) it holds true to its roots and maintains a thoroughly un-Hollywood ending (both of them; for it has two for the benefit of different audiences). I love that about the film, the way it takes a tired overused genre and does something different with it. How many high octane thrillers can you think of that can get away with referencing Buddhist philosophy? (The English title may make a neat nod to Dante but the quote at the start just sums everything up). It may not be a film to revolutionise the industry but it is the kind of film to recommend to your friends – even the ones that don’t normally watch foreign language films.

I’m a tad bit sound obsessed and I’ve been trying to avoid talking about sound in these but I have to just take a moment to commend the work of Kinson Tsang. Sound Designers don’t get a lot of love from the wider movie watching audience in general and the rare ones that people have heard of are almost all American so its nice to encounter one who isn’t American in the pre-film credits. He’s done a lot of good work on films I’ve enjoyed, being both prolific and award-winning in Hong Kong cinema. My utter lack of Cantonese precludes me from commenting on the dialogue editing and definition, but it was a nice mix, and, while the visual editing often took the fore, the sound has done with a steady hand. The temptation to ramp the sound up to compete with the visuals was resisted, instead it complements the image, coming to the fore itself in moments of quiet and stillness. Even here the sound is manipulated with a careful touch leaving the actors with space to act.

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