Infernal Affairs vs. The Departed


I just finished watching The Departed, Martin Scorsese's latest bloodbath. It was, as expected, great. For all the flack he gets, I think DiCaprio is easily one of the most talented actors of his generation. No stranger to violent Scorsese films, he fit right into the part of an in-deep undercover cop slowly losing his sense of identity.

For his part Matt Damon also did well, revisiting his Boston accent and playing the straight-laced mole in the police department.

The clincher of the film, unsurprisingly, was Nicholson. With a handful of recent softy movies, it's nice to see jack's back!

His character has all the vile and murderousness of The Joker, and all the wit and humour of Melvin Udall. How can you not love a man that delivers perfectly the following dialog:

Frank Costello (Jack): How's your mother?
Man in Bar: Not so good, she's dying.
Frank Costello: We all are, act accordingly.

Scorsese and William Monahan (who penned it) kept quite close to Siu Fai Mak's original script for Infernal Affairs. I watched IA last year, and it was one of the few Chinese movies I loved for more than the action or cinematography. The emotionally complex plot made it stand out from the other Hong Kong movies I've seen. When I was home in Canada this past summer and saw the preview for The Departed, I only hoped it would do the original justice. I think it did that with an even hand and a LOT of bullets to the head.

The marks of Hollywood are as much evident on The Departed as HK's flavour is stewed into Infernal Affairs – but both deliver the same message with much the same style. Not so coincidently, I loved Eric Tsang's character in the first as much as I loved Nicholson in the adaptation. Both DiCaprio and Damon fit well the weaselly/conflicted and cold/clean-cut characters of Tony Leung and Andy Lau respectively.

If pressed, I'd have to choose The Departed over IA for the simple reason that I could follow the story a little more clearly, and connected with the characters just a tad better. That said, both were great to watch. I wonder if Scorsese will remake the sequels.

16 Responses

  1. I haven’t seen The Departed but I will try to find this film and see it. For Infernal Affairs I have seen for seveal times and the film have three part to describe different period of the story. The film is one the most favorite film in China in recent years.

  2. I completely agree with your assessment of The Departed, and raise you one. I think that 50 years from now it will be on every top 100 list, maybe every top 50 list. It (and Nicholson) are THAT good!

  3. @Terry: It’s definitely worth giving a look.
    @CLB: That’s a tall order, but why not. Of course, I thought Daniel Day Lewis was fantastic in Gangs of New York – but the movie and his roll fell away to the annals of time quite quick.

    @All: Continuing my comparison of the two films; I find that the biggest difference between Asian films and their American counterparts are that in general Hollywood spells things out much more in their films, where as Hong Kong (and Mainland) movies tend to leave things hanging a lot more – letting the viewer to think how they will.

    That said, I think a lot of films that come out of the US have (and I’m going to get crucified for this) much more depth, they just tend to spell it out too obviously in under-estimating their audience’s ability to piece it together.

    It often seems to me that Chinese directors leave things wide open because they’re not entirely sure what they’re saying, but are hoping everyone will just go, “wow, he’s such a visionary and an artist”… which is utter bullocks. Do you here me Wong Kar Wai?? Do you!!?? 😉

  4. Where is the spoiler tag?

    I haven’t watched The Departed yet, but from what I hear about the ending, it’s not as good as IA. Compared to IA1, the ending leaves Matt Damon / Andy Lau in a much better state than it does in the original, where Andy Lau is condemned to a lifetime of suffering.

    And does it carry the same sense of conflict between one’s loyalty to men and one’s loyalty to absolutes? I enjoyed the internal conflict for Leung Chiu Wai between his growing affection towards his colleagues and his remaining loyalty towards law and society, but I suppose the treatment sucked; he was tilting towards an unconvincing betrayal until “that man” got killed out of the blue.

  5. @Inst: The ending is good. You’re right that he doesn’t suffer as much. As for the conflict, I certainly felt it, but I’d seen the original, so I knew what to look for – it might cause a bit of a bias.

  6. Ryan,
    I have listend to some of your songs. They are very fresh. If there were the words for them, it could be much better.

  7. dont be fucking daft -_- i watched the remake of IA and oh my god i wanted to put a bullet in my head . i watched all the american remakes of the hk and jap movies . they all suck

  8. @Neko_Guy: Bit slow to the punch there. This is more than a year old.

    But yeah, I guess Fist Full of Dollars does suck. Of course, I’d be lying.

    Sounds like you had your mind made up way before watching it.

  9. i watched both movies and IA is much better than the departed. The departed is good movie but not that good especially the acting….. really can’t compare to IA . They got into a real gangster life and u can obviously understand their feeling…………………..too far too compare

  10. Ex-pat Suzhou life eh? I’m an American living in Fuzhou, is that kinda close? Hahaha.

    First of all, I love both The Infernal Affairs Trilogy and The Departed. But…

    I prefer The Departed over the entire Infernal Affairs trilogy, and here’s why:

    First of all, Ming’s Mary in Infernal Affairs 1 is an extremely annoying character. She’s an author who, shock upon shock, is writing a story about a character who cannot decide whether or not he’s a good guy! This is agonizingly self-reflexive, as Ming listens to her story, ponders his own nature (“I want to be a good guy!”) and she remains oblivious to his connections to the Triads throughout most of the first film.

    I prefer the love triangle of The Departed to the side story-esque love stories of Yan and Ming in the Infernal Affairs trilogy. The love story between Yan and the psychologist adds absolutely nothing to the plot of Infernal Affairs 1 OR 3! She plays no role in the struggle between the police and the Triads. As soon as she comes on screen, you can expect loud and especially cheesy romantic music, bad acting from Kelly Chen, and a whole lot of smirking from Tony Leung. They may as well have put a big flashing “love subplot” overtitle onto each one of these scenes. In Infernal Affairs 3, this subplot is even more excruciatingly bad than in 1, as the character is brought in to expand upon a relationship that didn’t amount to much in the first place!

    Furthermore, what I find ironic about the gripes of Infernal Affairs trilogy fans in regards to the love triangle of The Departed, is that in Infernal Affairs 3, the psychologist character eventually becomes the same type of link between the two moles! I’m presuming neither of them had sex with her, but both of them obviously had feelings for her and she had feelings for the both of them as well (if this isn’t true in regards to Ming, I have a hard time understanding why she and Ming were spending so much time together in 3). In her heart of hearts though, she ultimately chooses Yan over Ming; especially after learning the truth about Ming (similar to how the psychologist chose Leo over Damon in The Departed).

    The psychologist character in The Departed and her connected subplot condenses the love stories of the Infernal Affairs trilogy into a much more tense and complete whole. Her connection to Damon showcases both the charm he uses to advance himself in the police force and the coldness and meanness he exudes as a mole and person in general (here, his personal life legitimately builds and expands on his public life). Her connection to Leo also shows us why he is truly worthy of being the hero of the story.

    Aside from all of this male-dominated discussion in what the psychologist DOES FOR the male characters in The Departed, her affair with Leo actually gives HER character some direction, we can root for HER, she does stuff, she has a STORY, and this is what makes it great for her to find love she’s been looking for with Leo and give the “he’s the mole!” moment of truth between her and Damon some impact. The only compelling female character you can find in the Infernal Affairs trilogy is the Mary of Infernal Affairs 2. All other female characters in the Infernal Affairs series do nothing but react to the male characters.

    To conclude this talk of love subplots and female characters, and their relationships with male characters, Infernal Affairs 1 and 3 offer up Ming sleeping on the psychologist’s couch and then starring, dreamy-eyed at her, thinking about what could be if he ever ended his stint as a mole, as the peak of romance. Ming and the psychologist never “do the deed.” I don’t think they even ever kiss! This is sweet, pure and sad. However, if you compare this to the passionate “we shouldn’t be doing this” type of sex between a mutually desperate Leo and the psychologist in The Departed, you’ll find another reason why I choose the love triangle of The Departed over the relationships of the Infernal Affairs trilogy any day!

    I prefer Damon’s take on the mole as someone who is completely sure in what he’s doing (unlike Lau’s turn in the Infernal Affairs trilogy as a conflicted villain/hero). Damon’s a bad guy, he knows it, and we know it. To see Damon subvert his hero persona created in other films is refreshing and actually makes for a more gritty and real movie in my mind. I’m given enough reason to care about the Leo/Damon stand-off because even if Damon is a villain, he’s a charming villain, one who brings you into his world, and I’m interested in what power-plays this character could have made with Nicholson out of the picture and his “hero” status in the police force still intact.

    Some people argue that Wahlberg’s Dignam was a completely unnecessary character, I beg to differ. In Infernal Affairs 2 and 3 there are characters who are incredibly similar to Dignam in their relationships to the other characters and the roles they ultimately play in the story: Superintendent Luk, Superintendent Yeung, and “Shadow” Shen. Once again, The Departed succeeds by condensing multiple characters into one to provide a tighter and more logical story. Also, key to the unique success of the inclusion of Dignam: Walhberg provided great comic relief as the foul-mouthed hot-head of The Departed. This kind of laugh-out-loud humor is missing from the entirety of the Infernal Affairs series.

    While many complain about the “Hollywood ending” of The Departed, they fail to compare it to the eventual discovery of the Ming character as the mole (and what may-as-well-have-been his death!) in Infernal Affairs 3. It’s hard to imagine anything more anti-climactic and unsatisfying. I couldn’t have cared less whether or not Ming died as he entered his final stand-off with Yeung and Shen. In contrast, the shocking exposition of violence and retribution for the murders of Leo and Sheen, achieved by the quick execution of Damon by Wahlberg in The Departed, brings about a completely satisfying sense of closure.

    Were I to omit Infernal Affairs 3 from this judgment of endings, and instead chose to focus solely on Infernal Affairs 1, I would be left with Ming’s survival and what seems to be his decision to begin himself anew as an honest cop. However, this still doesn’t add up to the glory that is Damon’s execution. It could be that I’m just a violence-obsessed guy, or perhaps Infernal Affairs 1 failed to convince me that turning a new leaf was a genuine possibility for the mole.

    Another success of The Departed that I would like to mention here is the fantastic job Scorcese does of delving into Boston, and Boston-Irish culture, especially. People accuse this film of simply being “Infernal Affairs… with White People” but that hardly does this aspect of the film justice. If you pay attention to some gems of lines from Nicholson, Damon and others about their identitiy as Boston-Irish, and how they constantly come into conflicts, both big and small, with characters who are NOT Boston-Irish, you’ll see that this isn’t just the background of the film or just an excuse for actors to put on an accent, but it is an integral part of the film itself and its message.

    Make no mistake, the Infernal Affairs trilogy clearly is a series of films that deals with the particularities of culture as well: there are telling interactions with people from Thailand, numerous references to Buddhism, a distrust of “mainlanders” from China, and perhaps most importantly, the changing from British colonial rule to “one nation, two systems” with China that serves as the backdrop for Infernal Affairs 2.

    However, it is my contention that The Departed surpassess the Infernal Affairs series in being a movie just as much about the ethnicity of its characters, the culture of it’s specific location, and its time period(s), as it is about two moles who hunt each other down and the lives they affect along the way.

    So, to review:

    Romance – The Departed
    Mole vs. Mole – The Departed
    Humor – The Departed
    Justice/Revenge, The End, “What goes around, comes around!” – The Departed
    Location, Location, Location! – The Departed


    Honorable Mentions:
    Tight Pacing and Suspense – Infernal Affairs 1
    Moral Ambiguity as a Theme – Infernal Affairs 2
    Michael Corleone-like character – Infernal Affairs 2, Ngai
    One-Way Love Story – Infernal Affairs 2, Young Ming’s infatuation with Mary

    Criticisms of The Departed
    – Too long
    – Too many characters with too much screentime for each
    – The scene with Nicholson and the Chinese Triads. How are you going to so blatantly insult the nationality of the people who inspired your movie!

  11. I’m shocked. I’m really shocked to read positive review of The Departed. I need to express my own feelings, because I watched both and as for me, The Departed is a crap. As much as I love IA, I was disguisted by TD. Considering Academy Award, I was hoping for something close in feeling to the original film, but I was totally disappointed.
    The only motive in TD which was interesting to me, was the creation the female character who is involved in lives of both protagonists. That was good, yet predictable in American films. But – yeah, that added a flavor to TD.
    Yet the ending of TD made me so mad, I wanted to throw my TV set through the window. That was just too much.
    And to be honest – I got irritated every time I saw Leo’s face. It was the same all the time. I wouldn’t believe him if he told me he hadn’t been a spy, sorry.

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