Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

The Departed vs Infernal Affairs

Empire lied. It gave the impression that though The Departed and Infernal Affairs (the Asian original) were based on the same premise, the plot was significantly different to still hold some suprises had one seen both. That isn't true. They are pretty much identical - the same twists, the same devices, the same locations even! I admit the cinema scene could really only have worked in a cinema, but was it necessary to repeat a certain incidental bit on a gold course, on a golf course? And d'ya know what? The end still shocked me, even though I knew full well what was coming.

So which one's better? Well, folks, I honestly wouldn't like to say. I loved em both. But here's a comparison, which hopefully won't look less equal than it actually is.

Just before we start. The two films are about the conflict between a cop who's been undercover in the mob/triad for 10 years (Leo diCaprio and Tony Leung - hereonwards referred to as Goodcop), and a mob/triad mole who has infiltrated the police force for more or less the same duration (Matt Damon and Andy Lau, henceforth known as Badcop). And throughout the rant, the movies are abbreviated to TD and IA. For brevity's sake. Points for IA are in white, for TD in blue. Because it's quite a blue movie, really.

1. It's the original. This means you can claim to like it in an irritating, "I got there first" sortofaway. You have the moviesnob's privilige of complaining that just because one is foreign, and the other Scorcese, it gets Oscars even though they're not noticably different.

But then again, it's Scorcese. Says it all, really! It got Oscars. And did I mention Scorcese? His first good movie in years! A return to the mean streets of America! Back to the good ole days! And all that stuff I've been reading other people write. This wasn't the first Marty movie I'd ever seen (that was Age of Innocence) but it's definitely the first one that actually counts.

2. Andy Lau beats Matt Damon to a pulp, in every single way. Matt Damon is far too...clean. He looks like a good guy - does anyone believe he is capable of putting a gun to someone's head and firing at point blank? Lau, on the other hand, is all steel. He's able to make a room go chilly, yet still retaining that slick nice guy edge. More importantly: the film hinges on sympathy for goodcop trying to hold onto his identity while lying constantly. Yet, in TD badcop never feels any remorse or stress for doing basically the same thing. IA grants badcop a scene of moral panic, and Lau pulls it off fantastically. I don't quite want to use the words "a bit Al Pacino in the eyes"...but, it was close.

3. This may sound personal, but I preferred Tony Leung in the goodcop role to Leo diCaprio. Given all the praise Leo has got, I'm not quite brave enough to say Leung was better. Maybe it's just because he was hotter, or because his mannerisms reminded me of Gary Oldman, or perhaps Leo was just too subtle for me. I've never really liked him. Leo is a good actor facially, but he speaks in a virtual monotone. The instant he opens his mouth, the effect is spoiled. That's why he seemed so good in Blood Diamond - unencumbered by his usual voice.

4. They also made a much better pair. TD was about two randomers, who could have been anyone. They just happened to have similar jobs on opposite sides of the law - not significant, only plot serving. IA was a battle between equals. They acted as a pair far better - there was long distance electricity. They were Thelma and Louise, even when separated. Which meant that when they finally met on screen, it was pure OMG shudders all the way. Who knows why? Different editing, different acting...or possibly just that opening scene with the stereo system. It felt important.

5 It was shorter. Out with all TD's subplots, in with the bare minimum for good, taut storytelling. This isn't necessarily better. It's just different. But I didn't significantly miss anything TD added. And another thought: I was quite enjoying TD, until a certain scene 20 mins in when I started really enjoying it and paying attention. That scene which hooked me is 5 minutes into IA.

One of the things missing was the sequence of Goodcop infiltrating himself into the mob. This wasn't really really vital, but it gave him more of an arc. IA's goodcop could have been having a pretty good time. Being undercover for 10 years must be tough, but aside from the cocaine sampling he never did anything I'd feel at all bad about. And believe me, my conscience is fragile. TD, on the other hand, shows us what's only hinted at in IA - threatening and hurting people, doing nasty-thug things, plenty of morally hard work. You feel so much sorrier for him. And the mob boss in TD is far less amiable. Gangster is one of cinema's most alluring careers - IA re-enforces the isn't-this-fun image, while TD plunges deeper into what it's actually like. According to my personal theory, this means TD probably has a better rewatch capability - there's layers of subtlty and characterisation to enjoy several times over, which IA just passes over in favour of a tighter plot. I suppose it depends how you like your cake baked.

5 And an addendum to that. No unecessary subplots, no Ray Winstone. In fact, very little characterisation of other characters. Far less confusing, far less people to mix up...

There's a downside. IA has no equivalent to Mark Wahlburg. I really loved his character in TD - I even remember his name (Dignam), which very rarely happens in films. It also means that (spoilers for both) when everything goes pear shaped, there's no one to turn up at the end and tidy up. And kill badcop. Again, I suppose it depends how pessimistic you like your endings whether this is good or bad...

4 The women in IA were far less annoying. In TD: two guys just happen to fall for the same girl, who just happens end up caught in the middle of the plot? Seemed a little...convenient. They also had vastly smaller roles to play, which I preferred.

4 ...but, less confusing. At least there was only one blonde to remember. IA has three women - badcop's fiancee, goodcop's shrink and another woman with a 6-yr-old daughter. I never worked out who she was.

6 OK, you know that bit in both films when Goodcop goes to meet his superior in an empty area, while his superior is being trailed, and then he gets a call from the rest of the mob...and the following scene, which involves an injured guy on a couch in TD, and a car journey in IA...naturally, I had a good inkling of what was going to happen in IA. But somehow...even though I had seen it happen still felt painfully, painfully suprising. I actually got as involved in the sequence as if I'd never seen it happen before.

6 Do you also recall a certain bit nearer the end involving a lift? True I had the benefit of shock with this one, but still...IA ruins the moment with slo-mo, black and white, music, and mess.

Overall analysis: IA is a one-watch thriller, what I like to call "sprint movie". You see it once, to find out what happens. Yes there's character complexity, but it's only ever to serve the plot. That's not to say it's bad - you're just unlikely to want to rewatch it. TD has layers - once you've got over the plot, there's still depth. You can enjoy the performances, the character moments, all those spirally subplots and minor parts with names I didn't quite catch. This doesn't necesarily make it better. It's just the same story, done differently. IA is fantastic for what it is, TD has more epic scope. And as I pointed out here, epic scope will always be better regarded.

I saw TD first, and enjoyed them both equally. My recommended watching order, however, is IA first, then TD, because there's enough interest in TD even if you know the plot already.

If you only see one? Don't know. Pick between a fantastically well made, classy crime thriller or a wider fantastically well made sprawling crime demi-epic.

PS - this week, Heavenly Creatures, Goodfellas and Donnie Brasco on TV. I'm very happy now...


Catherine said...

Interesting read. I can't really comment anything mad productive, because I haven't seen either film but a good read nonetheless!

Amanda said...

great comparison side by side,sums up both very well.

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