Infernal Affairs a.k.a Mo-Gaan-Do (2002)

Infernal Affairs (2002)
Loyalty. Honor. Betrayal. 
Directed by: Wai-keung Lau, Alan Mak
Starring      : Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong
Genre        : Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Runtime     : 101 minutes
WI's rating : 8.4

Supt. Wong: I remember a story. Two fools are waiting for their kidney transplant but only one kidney is available. Thus they play a game. They put a card on each others pockets. Whoever guesses the card in his own pocket wins.
Hon Sam: You know I can see your card.
Supt. Wong: I think so too
Hon Sam: I will beat you.
Supt. Wong: Let's see. We should be more careful.
Hon Sam: I will.
Supt. Wong: By the way, whoever loses the game dies.
Hon Sam: Let's see when you're going to die.
Supt. Wong: [extends his hand for a handshake]
Hon Sam: Ever seen someone shake a corpse's hand?
Infernal Affairs is about a cop who is actually a gangster, and a gangster who is actually a cop. The film opens with a big boss named Sam (Eric Tsang) sending off his youngest lieutenants to infiltrate the Hong Kong Police Academy. This is part of a long-term strategy aimed at keeping tabs on what the long arm of the law is up to. Ten years later, one of Sam's would-be spies, Ming (Andy Lau), is now a sergeant in the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau and he is secretly undermining the efforts by Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong) to bring down Sam's crime empire. However, what Ming doesn't realize is that Wong has infiltrated Sam's organization with a mole of his own-- Yan (Tony Leung), a cop who has spent the past decade working his way up to Sam's number-two man. Events kick into high gear during a tense sequence in which the police try to thwart one of Sam's drug deals. As the deal goes down, Yan secretly transmits the details to Wong while Ming sends coded messages to his boss keeping him apprised of what the police are up to. Though the bust ends with a stalemate, both sides end up realizing that there is a mole in their respective organizations. Thus, the undercover cop and the undercover criminal become caught up in trying to identify each other while keeping their own identities secret.

These two characters come into full play 10 years after the opening scenes, when both of them are brought into play by their original employers, and both sides realize they have a traitor in their ranks. In a kind of symmetry which is unlikely and yet poetically appropriate, each one is assigned to find the mole -- to find himself, that is. There's another level of irony since Lau and Chan actually graduated in the same academy class, and knew each other if only by sight; Chan has no way of knowing Lau is a sleeper for the mob, but Lau knew at the time that Chan was a cop, and possibly knew he disappeared to go undercover. The two meet by chance years later in a stereo store, but don't recognize each other -- a possibility easier for us to accept because they were played by other actors as younger men.

Keung: Remember this, if you see someone doing something but at the same time watching you... then he is a cop.
 Few cities, not even New York or Los Angeles, the capital of film noir, can match Hong Kong for its extreme paradox of urban decay and powerful material lure, and “Infernal Affairs” takes full advantage of the city's look to reflect and comment on the corroding ethics of its characters. What elevates the film above the generic foundations is its existential layer. Both men have grown weary with their personal lives, with living secretive and lonely existences in the gray area between good and evil. (A colleague of mine pointed out that the film's Chinese title, “Mo-Gaan-Do,” refers to the lowest level of hell in Buddhism.) Indeed, Yan is tired of pretending to be an amoral gangster and wants his normal life back, while Ming yearns to become a real cop and shed his forced role as a Triad spy.

Lau Kin Ming: I have no choice before, but now I want to turn over a new leaf.
Chan Wing Yan: Good. Try telling that to the judge; see what he has to say.
Lau Kin Ming: You want me dead?
Chan Wing Yan: Sorry, I'm a cop
Lau Kin Ming: Who knows that?

But this plot, clever and complex, is not the reason to see the movie. What makes it special is the inner turmoil caused by living a lie. If everyone you know and everything you do for 10 years indicates you are one kind of person, and you know you are another, how do you live with that? The movie pays off in a kind of emotional complexity rarely seen in crime movies. I cannot reveal what happens, but will urge you to consider the thoughts of two men who finally confront their own real identities -- in the person of the other character. The crook has been the good cop. The cop has been the good crook. It's as if they have impersonated each other.


Pianist (2002)

Pianist (2002)
Music was his passion. Survival was his masterpiece.
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Starring      : Adrien Brody, Thomas kretschmann
Genre        : Drama, Biography,History
Runtime     : 150 minutes
WI's rating : 8.7

Halina: We could hide the money. Look here. We can hide the money under the flower pots.
Father: No, no, no, no, I'll tell you what we do. We use tried and tested methods. You know what we did in the last war? We made a hole in the table leg
[taps the leg]
Father: and hid the money in there.
Henryk Szpilman: And suppose they take the table away?
Father: What do you mean, take the table away?
Henryk Szpilman: The Germans go into Jewish homes and they just take what they want, furniture, valuable, anything.
Mother: Do they?
Father: Idiot, what would they want with a table, a table like this?
[rips a piece of wood off the table]
Mother: What on earth are you doing!
Halina: No, listen. This is the best place for it. No-one would think of looking under the flower pots.
Henryk Szpilman: No, no, no, listen, listen to me, I've been thinking...
Wladyslaw Szpilman: Oh, really? That's a change.
Henryk Szpilman: You know what we do? We use psychology.
Wladyslaw Szpilman: We use *what*?
Henryk Szpilman: We leave the money and the watch on the table, and we cover it like this, in full view.
Wladyslaw Szpilman: [amazed] Are you stupid?
Henryk Szpilman: The Germans will search high and low, I promise you, they'll never notice!
Wladyslaw Szpilman: That's the stupidest thing I've ever seen, of course they'll notice it. Look.
[takes the violin and a bill, folds it and slips it into the opening of the violin]
Wladyslaw Szpilman: Look here... idiot.
Henryk Szpilman: And you call me stupid?
Mother: No, that is very good, because that is the last place they will ever look.
Henryk Szpilman: This will take hours!
Mother: We're not in a hurry, we'll get it back...
Wladyslaw Szpilman: It won't take hours.
Henryk Szpilman: How will you get them out? Tell me that, tell me how, I'd like to know, how would you get them out. You take each one out individually...
Halina: No-one listens to me, no-one. 

The Pianist follows up and coming piano player Wlad Spielzman from his days as a local hero to a prisoner of war to his time in the ghettos, surviving only by the kindness of strangers. I think many people have touched on this before but what makes this film so amazing and well crafted is because Spielzman is a man that we can all relate to. He is not a hero, he is not a rebel and he is not a kamikaze type that wants and lusts after revenge. He is a simple man that is doing everything in his power to stay alive. He is a desperate man and fears for his life and wants to stay as low as he can. Only from the succor he receives from others does he manage to live and breathe and eat and hide. And this is how I related to him. If put in his position, how would I react? Exactly the way he did. This is a man that had everything taken from him. His livelihood, his family, his freedom and almost his life. There is no time for heroics here. Adrien Brody embodies the spirit of Spielzman and his win at this years Oscars was one of the happiest moments I have had watching the festivities. Ultimately it is his gift of music that perhaps saves his life and the final scene that he has with the German soldier is one of the most emotionally galvanizing scenes I've witnessed. With very little dialogue, it is in the eyes, the face, the mouth and the sounds that chime throughout their tiny space that tell you all you need to know. I think it is this scene that won Brody his Oscar. This is one of the all time great performances.

Does the pianist raise any sympathy from the audience? Not immediately, in my view. The pianist is more than often a drifting character, almost a witness of other people's and his own horrors. He seems to float and drift along the film like a lost feather, with people quickly appearing and disappearing from his life, some helping generously, others taking advantage of his quiet despair, always maintaining an almost blank, dispassionate demeanour. One may even wonder why we should care in the least about this character. But we do care. That is, I believe, the secret to this film's poetry.

This wrenching yet ultimately uplifting fact-based drama won Adrien Brody his Academy Award and finally made him a star (along with his gracious yet heartfelt Oscar speech) -- rightly so, since title character Wladyslaw Szpilman is a challenging role in so many ways! It's not easy to command the screen when your character often has to be passive, deliberately trying not to draw attention to himself to keep from falling into Nazi hands in war-torn Poland, but Brody pulls it off. It helps that Brody is absolutely stellar at acting with his eyes, plus his body language speaks volumes; these fill in the emotional cracks, especially in scenes where Szpilman, alone and in hiding, can't speak or even move around much for fear of giving himself away. While there's no lack of haunting scenes, thanks to the deservedly Oscar-winning work of director Roman Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood, the one that always gets me is the one where Szpilman discovers the apartment serving as his latest `safe house' has a piano. We see Szpilman sit at the piano; we see him in a head-and-shoulders shot, shoulders moving; we hear piano music and gasp as we fear his love and longing for music is about to give him away -- and then we see his hands moving in the air just above the keyboard and realize, with both relief and a pang of regret, that the music is only in Szpilman's head.

The Pianist is not a movie made for entertainment. It's either more or less than that and only the viewer can decide. You have to ask yourself sometimes if the main reason films about the holocaust are so popular is because of shock appeal. If a movie depicts these terrifying events well, does that make it a good movie? The Pianist has many scenes showing the Nazi's brutality that feel almost voyeuristic. Some scenes show Adrien Brody's character looking out the window at these terrible things and you feel as if you're looking out a window, too.

I hope shock appeal isn't the reason this film is liked so much, though. Because this is an amazing story about the will to survive. Music is the character's passion,and throughout his struggles he can only fantasize about playing piano. There is one scene near the end in which he finally gets the opportunity. What follows is a touching moment that transitions from rusty skills warming up to an intense and passionate display of artistic talent. In this moment there is no longer a war going on, no longer the agony of hunger or memories of lost loved ones, just beautiful music. His reputation as a musician and his desire to go on to play again is essentially what keeps him alive.

-Adrien Brody lost 14 kg (31 lb) for the role of Wladyslaw Szpilman by eating a daily diet of two boiled eggs and green tea for breakfast, a little chicken for lunch, and a small piece of fish or chicken with steamed vegetables for dinner over a six week period. Initially his weight was 73 kg (161 lb).
-In order to connect with the feeling of loss required to play the role, Adrien Brody got rid of his apartment, sold his car, and didn't watch television. 
-Adrien Brody became the youngest person to date to win an Academy Award for Best Actor when he won for this film at the age of 29.