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The Departed vs. Infernal Affairs

In 2007, Director Martin Scorsese finally won an Oscar for Best Director for his cops and robbers drama, The Departed. The movie, a remake of an acclaimed 2002 Hong Kong film Mou Gaan Dou, more popularly known as Infernal Affairs, had an amazing cast with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead as well as Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg playing secondary characters. On the other hand, the original also had heavyweights with the likes of Andy Lau (House of Flying Daggers), Tony Leung (Hero, Lust Caution), Anthony Wong (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) and Eric Tsang in the lead. While the names are not that familiar to some, they represent the cream of the crop in Hong Kong Cinema.

The cast comparisons, as far as the major roles are concerned, are as follows, and I’ll just use the US version’s character names as reference:

Leonardo DiCaprio and Tony Leung as Billy Costigan
Matt Damon and Andy Lau as Colin
Martin Sheen and Anthony Wong as Queenan
Jack Nicholson and Eric Tsang as Costello

William Monahan adapted the screenplay written by Siu Fai Mak for the American audience and used Boston and the local underground world as the backdrop for the events.

Even before it came out, comparisons between the two movies swirled. While remakes will always be compared to the original, especially in the case of American remakes, the level of awareness in this case is heightened by the fact that it was being done by no less than the great Martin Scorsese with his aforementioned killer cast. This isn’t Gore Verbinski remaking The Ring. This is Martin Scorsese, the master, the man.

So did Scorsese deliver? Is the Original better?

The story as we all know by now involves two moles, Billy and Colin, one for the police and one for the mob. A series of events leads them to realize that there is a mole in their respective group and they try to smoke each other out.

Acting-wise, the two movies are at a stalemate. I will always see this movie as the first part of Leonardo DiCaprio’s transformation into a man, the second part being Blood Diamond which came out later that year. While DiCaprio always plays the trapped, tortured soul extremely well even in his earlier films like The Basketball Diaries and Catch Me If You Can, in this film, it seems that he reached a whole level of repressed anger which could only be achieved through age. Tony Leung always seems to be in a serene state which makes his break down all the more effective. The role is actually perfect for him. Unlike DiCaprio whose undercover cop is a raging bad boy who will fight anybody, Leung goes the other way as he pretends to not to give a shit about the mob and its operations at all. Surprisingly, both are effective and both fit in with the role and the movie.

Andy Lau and Matt Damon on the other hand play the role practically the same way. Their image in the police force is that of a young achiever, on his way to the top. Both exude what can only be described as being a gentleman asshole who are at the top of their game both as a policeman and a mobster. Damon and Lau are at a point in their careers when they are so likeable that you forget that they are playing the role of the bad guy in the movie which ultimately makes you on the same level as the police force they are deceiving.

Sheen and Wong, veterans that they are, understand that their role is not very showy but equally important. Their role is as close to a father figure for Billy as he can get and in a society of faulted figureheads, this is important. The difference is actually not a way of acting but a person and that person is Dignam played by Mark Wahlberg. While DiCaprio’s character had two links to the force, Leung’s only had one. This subtle difference changes a lot of the dynamics in the story and essentially, at least for this writer, creates the difference between the two films.

In the beginning of Infernal Affairs, there was a short premise about the so-called Continuous Hell which was the worst of all hells because of the continuous suffering that one would experience in it. This is what their characters basically experience in IA. Leung never liked being an undercover and he’s been at it for more than nine years and he feels like he’s just about to lose it. He desperately wants to be a cop, an ordinary one, but for now the only police thing that he can do is to salute as a funeral car of a dead cop passes by. On the other hand, Lau’s Colin is a guy who does not really want to be a crook from the very beginning. He was thrust in this role as a young man and he cannot get out of it. Thus they live in their own personal continuous hell. They live a life that they do not want and they see no end to it.

In The Departed such struggle is not quite as clear-cut. Damon’s Colin does not seem to have a problem with being a mole. There is no moral struggle, at least visibly, in him and in a way, he seems to get worse and worse. DiCaprio’s Billy is more faithful to Leung’s however. Just like Leung, he wants to get out of the game although his desperation seems to stem more from his fear of getting caught by Costello than by being in the undercover business for a long time. There lies another difference between IA and TD. Leung has been undercover for ten years while DiCaprio could not have been more than three. The desperation is present in both but less palpable in The Departed.

Which brings us back to the celebrated role of Dignam. In IA, there is no Dignam but rather the role is spread out in different characters. The first “Dignam” who along with Inspector Wong knew about Leung’s undercover role was in the movie but was killed prior to the main events. This was seen in IA II. Other Dignam scenes were present as well but they were passed on to other roles such as the OCB head which in TD was played by Alec Baldwin. The importance of Dignam in changing the storyline can mostly be seen after Sheen’s character died. Billy Costigan was desperate but Dignam could be somewhere and he could meet up with him somehow. Leung's character on the other hand was totally fucked the moment Inspector Wong died. Logically speaking, Billy could still have things fixed up as soon as Dignam shows up and so he did not have to deal with Colin. Leung had nowhere to go and so his desperate fateful act was entirely logical.

In almost every story there is a battle between good and evil. As we all know, the Good almost always wins and in IA such holds true. While Lau’s character survives, good still won over evil because evil, Lau’s character, became good in the end as when he betrayed Sam and gave the appropriate recommendation for Leung's character. In TD, Colin only turned against Costello because he was afraid that Costello was going to turn him over to the FBI being that Costello was an informant of crooked FBI agents. It was not a triumph over evil. It was a necessity more than anything.

Infernal Affairs is an awesome film and Infernal Affairs II the prequel, only strengthened its power. The only problem with the franchise is that it was ruined by Infernal Affairs III and if one can stay away from this horrible sequel please do so.

The Departed won Best Picture despite the fact that it was not even in the Top Five of Scorsese’s movies. It won an award for Best Editing even though it was probably Schoonmaker’s worst work ever and is absolutely on the other end of the spectrum compared to GoodFellas. The lack of continuity in the shots is distracting at times because of the lack of smoothness in the transition. Some key points were also unbelievable like the scene where Billy’s message alert tone went off when only a minute ago he’s been receiving text messages on silent mode.

Finally, The Departed was indeed a good movie and could have been deserving of an Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director. Sadly, it seems more of a charity case for Scorsese for having lost so many times while deserving a win at the same time. Personally I feel uncomfortable when someone, especially a great one like Scorsese, wins an award for a remake. That’s like winning Best Vocal Performance for a cover version of a popular song. In the end, Scorsese should have won many times over and it is a tragedy that he has to win for this one.

Infernal Affairs: 9/10
The Departed: 9/10
At Gunpoint: Infernal Affairs


Anonymous said...

we should do a Filipino remake of this starring YOU and ME. I'll write the script, you direct.

it's a deal bro. bring it on.

by the way, dis review was by the Mayn Man (dalawa na kami sa da couch tomato) but i assume you want ME to star in the remake right? hehe

you already have the moustache and goatee of both Leung and DiCaprio.

tina said...

is it just me, or do the actors in the hong kong movie look like comedians? i swear i've seen them (or actors who look a lot like them XP) in some chinese comedies on cable... especially the guy with the mustache and goatee, if he were clean-shaven he'd look a *lot* like the shaolin soccer/kung-fu hustle guy... ^^

well a lot of HK actors are good in comedy and action. Tony Leung is one of those actors who I HAVEN'T seen in a comedy. First time I saw hime, i was already blown away and this was in Hard Boiled alongside Chow Yun Fat.

But if you do shave him, like in Lust Caution, he does look like Stephen Chow(Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle)

tina said...

didn't chow yun fat star in some silly romantic comedies way back when, before he entered hollywood? most of the chow yun fat movies that i see on chinese channels are of that type... he seems to be pretty good at it too ^^ too bad the chinese channels don't have english subtitles...

hey hey, how 'bout some reviews of beat takeshi movies? like gohatto and zatoichi :D

I;m not familiar with those movies of Chow. But a lot of his movies have some romantic element in it.

I haven't seen them in a long time e. This Infernal Affairs, I had to rewatch it again, this time after a rewatching of The Departed, so I can get a fairer comparison.

If I get the chance, maybe I will.

You can suggest and I promise I'll try to watch it and review it.

tina said...

actually i've already seen gohatto and zatoichi, but i'd like to see what you guys have to say about them ^^ and some other beat takeshi movies that have gotten good reviews, like sonatine and hana-bi; these two i haven't seen yet. :D

oh, and my wife is a gangster! haven't seen that one either, it seems to be good... hehehe.

Ok I'll try to see some of them.
When you said My Wife is A GAngster, I thought you were declaring a fact. And then I remembered that there was a movie entitled My Wife is a Gangster and that I wanted to watch it before as well.

I'll try to watch that.

Anonymous said...

Just saw IA last night, and while TD flat out stole several scenes nearly shot-for-shot from IA, I still think it sketches the characters a little better. For example, yes, the breakdown in IA is more believable because he's been undercover for ten years. But would anyone really serve that much time? And why did he agree to be fake kicked out of the academy to do this mission? Out of ambition? Leo's character had a reason: he wouldn't be able to work as a cop otherwise, and he had no family and no real future otherwise, so this was kind of a no-brainer. Maybe that was the case in IA as well, but we'd never know it from the opening scenes.

Anonymous said...

to anonymous - have you ever heard of Joseph Dominick Pistone (portraited by Johnny Depp in the movie Donnie Brasco)? He was a FBI agent who infiltrated the mafia for six years and almost got "made" by the Bonanno family.

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