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.

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