Infernal Affairs returns to theaters in a stunning 4K refurbishment. Released in 2004, the feature film has become a thriller classic. Meeting with his co-director Andrew Lau.
Released in 2004, Infernal Affairs blew up the small world of noir thrillers. Directors Alan Mack and Andrew Lau created a little gem of a detective film that today is considered one of the best of its kind, and for some even the best.
No wonder Martin Scorsese decided to make a remake of The Departed in 2006. The work received 4 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.
After 20 years, Infernal Affairs comes out in a restored 4K version thanks to distributor The Jokers. We remind you that the story takes us to Hong Kong, where the local police and the triad are in a relentless struggle.
To protect his interests, Sam, the godfather of the mob, decides to infiltrate Lau into the police force, where he quickly rises through the ranks. Meanwhile, Commissioner Wong sends his best man Chan as a mole to the mob.
On the day when the police and the mafia realize that the mole has infiltrated each of the camps, the race against the clock begins. Their exposure gradually boils down to a duel between Chan and Lau, two men who, in their own ways, can no longer bear their dual identities.
On the occasion of the release of the feature film, AlloCiné met with co-director Andrew Lau, who is behind the scenes of this iconic production.
How do you explain the success of Infernal Affairs?
It took a lot of work to make this film, and we also had to deal with a lot of funding issues. I insisted on making sure the budget was enough for the shoot. Hong Kong cinema was also going through hard times, and I was very happy that I was able to put together a team that believed in my script.
I feel like people liked the movie because they felt connected to it. At that time, Hong Kong was also going through a SARS crisis, and just like today with Covid-19, people were facing financial and personal problems, which are shown in my film.
I’ve always said that if this feature doesn’t work, I’ll retire, but I’m happy with how things turned out.
However, Infernal Affairs made a lot of money during this time. I’ve always said that if this feature doesn’t work, I’ll retire, but I’m happy with how things turned out.
I think Infernal Affairs owes its success to the many people who worked hard on the film, whether it was the cast or crew. I really want to take this moment to thank them again for their hard work.
The film will be remastered in 4K. Can you tell us about the work on this restoration and what it brought to the film?
At the time I was filming Infernal Affairs, I wanted to experiment with the color of the film. I used film and wanted to try the process without bleach.
Maybe it had to do with the technology of the time, but I was never happy with it. Restoring film to 4K will show the best colors of the film and I will make one of my dreams come true.
Why is the public fascinated by the gangster figure in movies?
I think the reason people love gangster movies is because of the escapism they provide. I always say that films are escapism and gangster films are a special form of escapism. I think these works allow the viewer to fantasize about a life of crime without consequences or see something where the bad guy gets what he deserves.
A lot of gangster movies also tell a story of an outsider, a brotherhood, a friendship, and I think people love that. For example, in The Young and the Dangerous, although all my characters are gangsters, I tried to put more emphasis on the brotherhood of these characters.
By instilling these values in the style of comics, I think I have managed to captivate my audience. Look at Wong Fei Hong, I end the movie with the bad guy losing, getting what he deserves, and I think that’s what people are saying.
A lot of gangster movies also tell a story of an outsider, a brotherhood, a friendship, and I think people love that.
Why did you choose Tony Leung and Andy Lau for these roles?
Infernal Affairs was a mid-budget film, and no one thought to cast Andy Lau and Tony Leung. Alan Mak and Felix Chong met with various companies about this script, but were unable to secure funding.
When I looked at the script, I thought that it had a lot more potential and that it should be a big project. Then I offered to hire Andy and Tony for the film. Although the budget was low, Andy said that he would temporarily work for free. Tony agreed, and the rest is history.
When they were cast, I thought it was natural for Andy to play Lau Kinming and Tony to play Chan Winyan. It was more appropriate, that’s how it felt.
How would you describe your work on set with Alan Mack?
On the set, Alan was mainly engaged in rehearsals. He talked to the actors while I watched and made adjustments to the rehearsals, got the right angles, made sure we had the lighting we needed for the scenes.
You could say that I took care of the technical aspects, and he took care of the management of the set. throughout the preparation and production process. We were in constant contact; usually he would go through the script first, modify it, and then pass it on to me.
I digested it and made other changes. I let him take care of the more artistic decisions while I also took care of the commercial aspect of the film.
The tension has been getting stronger and stronger throughout history, how did you manage to create this tension?
We had a pretty solid script and what he was describing was pretty clean and simple. But the biggest challenge was translating the words into pictures. There have been many stories of cops, robbers and undercover cops in Hong Kong cinema. I made a few myself, including To Live and Die in Tsimshatsui. I wanted to shoot it in a new way.
Usually in these kinds of films, we don’t know who the mole is. In Infernal Affairs, by following Tony and Andy, I was able to create a situation where the audience knows who the moles are. But the characters in the story do not know this. So it was about creating that tension throughout the film. When they find out who they are, what will happen?
Throughout the film, you see them playing cat and mouse together, almost revealing each other’s identities. I think it really adds to the suspense of the film.
Throughout the film, you see them playing cat and mouse together, almost revealing each other’s identities. I think it really adds to the suspense of the film. In the rooftop scene with Andy and Tony, the script originally called for a big fight between them. We had already rehearsed this scene and it didn’t feel right to me, so I let the actors continue acting out the scene.
I think everyone expects that big fight at the end between the two main characters, but in the end, I think the fight through dialogue really added to the tension of the movie. Although this scene is considered to be the best in the movie, when I shot it, it took me a while to find inspiration.
Martin Scorsese is my idol. Even though I met him later, I consider him my mentor.
What do you think of The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s remake?
Martin Scorsese is my idol. Even though I met him later, I consider him my mentor. When I found out that he was going to do a remake of my film, I was very happy. I was very encouraged that someone I respect so much recreated my work.
When you hear that Martin Scorsese will be inspired by your work, all you can say is wow. Of course, I prefer my version, but Martin did a very good one too. Of course, he had to adapt it for the American audience.
I also wanted to talk about my meeting with him a few years later when he was one of the executive producers of my film Revenge of the Green Dragons. When I met him at the Toronto Film Festival, during the premiere of a feature film, I remember grinning and saying, “At last we met!” What an unforgettable moment!
How did the director approach you to talk about the remake and why did you agree to give him permission to do his remake?
Plan B Entertainment bought the film rights in the United States and Martin Scorsese was attached to direct the film. I immediately agreed without even thinking. Like I said, when someone like Martin joins a project, you don’t say no.
The end of Infernal Affairs is quite unexpected and shocking, did you write it like that from the very beginning?
There were many discussions at the beginning of the writing process. We probably had 10 different endings. Who was going to die? Andy or Tony’s character? Should both die or neither should die? I always thought it was Tony who should die, but I could never tell why.
There were discussions that Andy had to die because he is the villain of the story. It solidified my position on Tony’s death because it’s the bad guy who survives in this world.
Tony’s death also demonstrated the fact that death can be an escape, but the villains will survive living in this “continuous hell”. So in the end I’m very happy with how it turned out.
Scorsese changed most of the script. Even though it’s a remake of Infernal Affairs, I think the two films are completely different.
Martin Scorsese changed the ending, especially what happened to Matt Damon/Andy Lau. What do you think about Scorsese’s choice of ending?
Martin changed a lot in the script. Even though it’s a remake of Infernal Affairs, I think the two films are completely different. We both had different topics that we wanted to explore, or maybe producers or actors got involved. But I think our understanding of scenarios was different.
As I said before, I think an important theme of this series is the “continuous hell” that the character is in. As long as Andy’s character is alive, he lives in a kind of hell where he has no friends and no dignity. He is a shell of himself.
But I want to know why Martin changed the ending!
What do you think of blockbusters like Marvel, superhero movies compared to the Hong Kong industry?
I think every generation has its heroes. Different cultures have conflicting ideas about what it means to be a hero. For example, Hong Kong has its own series of superhero films, old wuxia films, police and robber films, and so on.
I think I’ve done a few superhero movies like Storm Riders and A Man Called Hero. At the end of the day, I think every culture throws their idea of the superhero onto the big screen, but I personally don’t mind, as long as it’s a good movie, I think that’s enough.
Matt Damon returns with humor at the end of The Departed