Monday, December 13, 2004

DVD: Infernal Affairs (2002)

What’s the story on this movie, anyway? I’ve been waiting to see it since I read the review in Variety last year. It racked up raves on the festival circuit and won a score of Hong Kong’s Oscars. The remake rights were the subject of an intense bidding war. Miramax announced plans to release the original this fall. The trailer is available via On Demand right now, listed as ‘Coming Soon.’ I kept checking the papers for it.

But the other day I also happened to check Netflix. And there it was. ‘Coming to DVD on December 7.’ Was the theatrical release curtailed for some reason? I added it to the queue. Sure, I’d prefer to see it on the big screen. But I’ll take what I can get.

The premise is brilliantly simple. A promising police recruit is drafted to go undercover in the triads. At the same time, a young gang member joins the police force and rises through the ranks, secretly reporting to a crime boss. Ten years later, their paths collide. And each mole is ordered to hunt down the other. Kind of like a straight version of CORKY ROMANO.

There are plenty of opportunities for John Woo-style emotional pyrotechnics, but directors Andrew Lau and Alan Mak don’t go that route. Instead they tell the story as a procedural, adopting the lean, cool style of Michael Mann. The emotion is there, but it’s all under the surface. (There’s more overt sentiment in Woo’s best American film, the similarly-themed FACE/OFF, even though the plot is more outrageous.) Not that I’m complaining; this film is, in its way, a near-perfect piece of entertainment. Lau and Mak have made two follow-up films, set before and after the events of this one. No word yet on when they will come to video.

The U.S. version, due in 2006, will star Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. It will also be directed by Martin Scorsese. Usually, I’m opposed to remakes on general principle. But this one sounds like a great idea.