Review: Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs, 2002)

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Perfection in the form of a thriller!

Written By: Felix Chong & Alan Mak
Directed By: Wai-keung Lau & Alan Mak

Perfect thrillers are hard to find. Perfect thrillers with psychological musings on identity, loyalty and honor are damn near impossible to find. Yet, here we have Mou Gaan Dou that fits the bill and proves that thrillers can be deep in message while still thrilling you and offering plenty o’ great visuals. Mou Gaan Dou is one of those films that I loved on first viewing and somehow have managed to fall even more in love with upon every new viewing. I sometimes wonder why I didn’t notice this or that in any of my previous viewings, but lo and behold every time out I fond some extra bit of nuance to love in Mou Gaan Dou.

I feel required to first touch on the acting, or as I like to call it, my oh my Odin isn’t Tony Leung the greatest thing since sliced bread memorial paragraph. This happens in every Leung film, but such is the way of life when it comes to such awesome things. Not only is he hotness on a stick, but in every role he manages to bring something new to the table and Mou Gaan Dou isn’t any different. His character isn’t given a lot of deep characterization through the plot or overall story, so it falls to Leung to imbue his character with depth. He does so with little mannerisms here and there, expressing sorrow, grief, frustration, painting a picture of Yan in our mind and holding it there. To quell this Leung memorial before it gets further out of hand, he is awesome, that is all.

The rest of the cast of Mou Gaan Dou is equally up to task. Andy Lau as Inspector Lau is cold and business like in his role, but he’s also conflicted and emotional in the moments where the camera seems to be drifting around him. Anthony Wong is hard and yet a sort of loving and caring boss as SP Wong, his death is very chilling because despite limited screen time we become invested in his character as Yan’s lifeline. Lastly, Eric Tsang is incredibly chill as Sam, he is the glorified gangster personified. In particular the interrogation scene between Tsang and Wong rivals any other two man exchange put on film, both men are that spot on with their timing and delivery.

If Mou Gaan Dou was just a thriller it would still be a really good film. The film plays on the mystery of the two moles and the air of when will the mystery finally be figured out and the shit hit the fan. Every action/thrill scene is constructed for maximum effect, from the cell phone charged tension of the first drug deal, to the climatic rooftop showdown between Yan and Lau. Of particular note to me was the movie theater walk out sequence, when Yan is chasing down Lau. It’s such a simple scene, but it is packed with oodles of tension. All of this tension and suspense for the thrilling portion of the film plays off in spades later on. It’s a sign of a great thriller/suspense flick when the revelations come and a plethora of tidbits that we knew had to be important from earlier in the film do become important and Mou Gaan Dou was full of those small tidbits that pay off and none pays off more than the final twist that leads to quite the shocking ending.

What elevates Mou Gaan Dou to a truly epic level is its ability to pack in a lot of psychological pondering into a taut film. The two men are the same, only on different sides. The film plays on the idea of identity, are you really one of the good guys if you had to spend the last ten years pretending to be a bad guy? Conversely, are you really a bad guy if you spent the last ten years playing the role of the good guy? Mou Gaan Dou handles this duality question brilliantly, using small character moments to drive home the isolation and pressure these two men are under and how they constantly question their identity. It is finally the death of SP Wong that shocks them both out of their identity crises’ and allows them to clearly see who they are and what needs to be done. Loyalty and honor are also questioned, although not in as great of detail as identity. But, they are touched upon and help to add yet another layer to a surprisingly deep film.

It’s rare to find a thriller that is as satisfying on as many levels as Mou Gaan Dou. Yes, it was remade in 2006 as The Departed, and while I am not one to bash remakes just because they are remakes, that film even at its best doesn’t compare to Mou Gaan Dou. As streamlined of a film experience as you will find, with every frame mattering to the overall story, every moment of tension hitting you like a punch to the gut and a satisfying, albeit sad and still redemptive, ending. Mou Gaan Dou is one of the best thrillers you can hope to see, providing some psychological pop to go along with the usual tense trappings. Plus, it’s got Tony Leung, see it, seriously!

Rating:

****

Cheers,
Bill

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6 responses to “Review: Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs, 2002)

  1. Anarya Andir

    I saw the Departed first and liked it, but after watching Infernal Affairs, I could easily pick out the superior film. Infernal Affairs is genius. Without being overly violent and gory like the Departed, it really holds your attention, and I love the fact that the characters are shades of grey. It’s just so well crafted. You start sympathising with Lau at points too.

  2. Infernal Affairs is quite the well crafted film. My dislike for The Departed aside, Infernal Affairs works on two important levels. It creates great tension and it gives depth to the main characters so you care about them. That’s just great storytelling no matter what.

  3. Anarya Andir

    I agree with you. It’s logically crafted and unlike the Departed’s blatant show of star power, here the characters are just right (though Andy Lau and Tony Leung are huge stars as well). You just never think you’re looking at stars. They seem real.

    I also love the Buddhist philosophy – Avici hell and that. That makes the ending much more satisfying (including IA 2 and IA 3).

    Ultimately it just works on so many different levels. A superior film to its remake, definitely.

  4. Yep, it’s hard to go wrong with Lau and Leung. Although, I ended up being most impressed by Eric Tsang. The film does work on many different levels, and I am interested in checking out the sequels at some point.

  5. Anarya Andir

    Tsang was great – I agree. If you like Tsang, you’ll like IA2. It has more of him there. :D. Yeah you should definitely watch the sequels. Lots of people complain about IA3 but I actually liked it.

  6. Cool beans, I’ll definitely check them out sometime in the future. 🙂

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