Life shows no mercy for the weak. Cognizance about everythin has become mandatory to survive. Get a piece of everythin that life has in the offering ! i share all that i know to help others know what i know. we stay together , we survive. welcome to candor corner. know. share. survive. always with candor, Praveen Chandar

Sunday, August 26, 2007

' The Departed ' Versus ' Infernal Affairs '


A few weeks back, I watched INFERNAL AFFAIRS, the source of Martin Scorsese's exciting crime thriller THE DEPARTED and was struck by the fascinating similarities and differences between the two movies.

The Departed is based on the highly successful 2002 Hong Kong crime thriller called Infernal Affairs, which starred Tony Leung and Andy Lau, and was directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. The film did so well in Asia that it spawned a prequel and a sequel. Yet it only received a minimal release in the U.S. The Departed’s screenwriter William Monahan says that he made an effort NOT to see Infernal Affairs, and instead worked from a translation of the Chinese script. In the press notes, Scorsese insists that his film is not a remake of the Hong Kong film. Well I don’t know how he defines a remake but anyone who saw Infernal Affairs might think differently because in addition to the basic storyline that’s lifted for The Departed there are other elements taken directly from the Hong Kong original—bits of business involving cell phones, elevators, a meet in a porn theater, rooftop encounters and more. Monahan and Scorsese lift these elements and tweak them yet they don’t make them better or fully their own.

Infernal Affairs is an excellent film. It is 45 minutes shorter, much less violent, considerably quicker paced and extremely well written. Scorsese and his screenwriter wisely retained several of the most interesting and complex sequences of the Hong Kong original. The Departed has much more character development and is more theatrical. There are also some interesting plot differences; for instance, the mafia/triad mole inside the Hong Kong police department (Andy Lau) is much more morally conflicted and complex than his Boston version (Matt Damon).

Monahan hails from Boston, which explains why he wanted to set the story their. But Scorsese never connects to the city the way he has with his home turf of New York. Similarly, we are constantly being reminded of the Irishness of the characters and the characteristics of being Irish yet a cultural flavor never flows through the film the way being Italian in New York came through in Scorsese’s early films. Plus, Damon and DiCaprio never sell me on their ethnicity. In fact DiCaprio and Nicholson have a little trouble selling me on the fact that they’re supposed to be from Boston. All this leads me to saying something that I never thought I’d say: when it comes to this particular story. Scorsese’s been outdone by his Hong Kong counterparts. Scorsese’s The Departed doesn’t improve in any way on Infernal Affairs, which served up a return to stylish Hong Kong action. Quit simply, Infernal Affairs delivered the goods, while The Departed just makes a partial shipment.

Infernal Affairs hits the ground running and has Tony Leung established as the police mole inside the Triad gang within eight minutes, whereas Leonardo DiCaprio's insinuation into Jack Nicholson's Irish mafia gang takes much longer and includes much fascinating (if highly violent) detail and justification. One clever difference is that Infernal has three female characters, whereas Departed drops one and combines the other two into a single woman (Vera Farmiga, excellent) sleeping with both moles.

Those who are put off by graphic violence might still enjoy Infernal Affairs, because most of its violence (except for a couple of shoot-outs) is only suggested, whereas you wallow in blood in the American version. Infernal Affairs is one of Hong Kong's biggest-budget hits and has already spawned two sequels.

While I’d seen lots of writing about Infernal Affairs and the resurgence in interest in it when Martin Scorsese decided to remake it, I didn’t really know a lot about the film. It grabbed me right from the beginning and I could see why Scorsese was interested in it as well. Infernal Affairs starts out simply with parallel characters who make moral choices, but as they live within their lies it all get blurry. With great visual motifs and a breezy pace the film cruises along in a very enjoyable way. I loved the melodramatic tone and coincidences that kept the focus on the characters and their struggle to figure out who they really are. Lots of fun. Now I have to see Scorsese’s re envisioning of film that may not have been possible without the influence of Scorsese on the crime drama. A neat cinematic exchange.

If I had just watched the English language trailer, I wouldn’t have watched Infernal Affairs; it made the movie look pedestrian and uninteresting. I liked Wai Keung Lau’s work on Storm Riders, but I wouldn’t have sought this one out just because of that. However, because I really enjoyed The Departed, I decided to try it out, and I was quite impressed. It’s hard not to compare this to Scorsese’s film: for instance, it does in the first 8 minutes what Scorsese does in 50, and yet the movie takes place over ten years, while The Departed seems to take less than a year. Each storytelling technique has its own pros and cons, and in the end, Infernal Affairs comes across not as a drama, but as an action movie with a twist.

Scorsese’s films have often been obsessed with notions of guilt and redemption, and this story of The Departed would seem to offer fertile ground to further explore these ideas. But Monahan’s script doesn’t provide Scorsese with that kind of material. What Monahan is good at is writing some crackling dialogue (Mark Wahlberg’s acid tongued cop gets most of the best lines with Jack coming in a close second). But he’s less skilled at creating suspense and a narrative arc. We don’t feel the mounting tension as sharply as we should, or the tragic irony of how the lives of these two young men play out.
Monahan has made a nifty addition to the Nicholson character, one that plugs the movie right into Boston's most recent gangland saga. And Nicholson's performance, a revolving palette of winks and wheezy wisecracks, is entertaining. It's also a gimmick: He needs to stop letting his eyebrows do most of the work for him. Damon brings dashes of style to his role, particularly in some early scenes where he flirts with a crime psychiatrist played by Vera Farmiga -- forgetting that he's trying to impress her, he begins a sentence with the classic Bostonian disclaimer "No suh!" But his performance doesn't have the grave presence that DiCaprio's does. This is a good role for DiCaprio: Since he's playing a wily punk on the right side of the law, it's fitting that his boyishness hasn't yet quite jelled into manhood. And as he's forced to wade deeper and deeper into his secret life, we can see how much it takes out of him: His heart is so heavy it seems to weigh down even his narrow, wiry body.

DiCaprio's performance is terrific -- but I can't say it's better than Tony Leung's, in Infernal Affairs. Leung vested his version of the character with even deeper furrows of sadness, particularly in a scene where he meets the young daughter he didn't know he had. But I think it's possible to feel warmer toward Infernal Affairs than toward The Departed, while recognizing the ways in which Scorsese has built on, and enhanced, the original's strengths. These are two modern crime dramas that serve their audience first and foremost: Unlike the characters that haunt them, they're both working on the same side.
Both films are well cast, but Scorsese takes the time to bring out very colorful, fun performances from DiCaprio, Damon, Nicholson, Farmiga, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Ray Winstone and Mark Wahlberg. On the other hand, because Infernal Affairs has five Triad moles inside the police department, that film better explains the shocking shooting near the end of the movie. Also, the two films have different endings and widely differing fates for the Damon/Lau character. The Hong Kong movie is more philosophical and ends with a moral issue. The Yank climax has more bang-bang action, and therefore less intellectually compelling.
Nevertheless, The Departed won Martin Scorsese the coveted Academy Award for 'Best Director' which was long due to him, ever since he was nominated for his film 'Raging Bull' in 1980. The Deaprted, though not his best work to date, is easily one of the best crime classics to have come out in the last ten years. Marty should, perhaps, acknowledge this Oscar as a remuneration for all the other films, such as 'Raging Bull' , 'GoodFellas' and 'The Aviator' , for which he truly and more sincerely deserved a recognition at the Academy.


always with candor,

Praveen Chandar.


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- 'JOHN WOO' : The man who got the West take notice of Honk Kong Cinema -