Film Analysis: Infernal Affairs, 1 (Wu Jian Dao, 2002)

Film Analysis: Infernal Affairs, 1 (Wu Jian Dao, 2002)




Film Analysis: Infernal Affairs, 1 (Wu Jian Dao, 2002)

‘The Infernal Affairs’ film represents a cat and mouse drama revolving around a police officer investigating the triads, and a spy infiltrating a police department in Hong Kong. Simply put, the storyline involves finding out the police officer and the spy is before the opposite side does. Ultimately, this film succeeds in portraying the different representations or configurations (Marchetti, 2007). It achieves this by depicting the modern lifestyle and technological advancement of the Chinese people.

What sets the modern urban lifestyle of the Hong Kong community is portrayed by the technological conveniences that Lau and Chan pretense. Characters in this film wield computers and cell phones much as they would weapons such as guns. This conveys the message of a community that has embraced a modern lifestyle and advancement in technology. Hence, it is fitting that Lau and Chan meet after a long time in a tech store. The appliances and music from the large stereo system distracts them from recognizing each other even though they came from the same police academy.

To illustrate the aspect of a modern or urban lifestyle of the Chinese in the film, we are first taken through a scene where Chan and Lau meet after parting ways from the police academy. Notably, their meeting is in a stereo lane. This stereo shop deals in audio-visual technology and appliances. These may include CD players, DVD players, and audio components and speakers. This scene provides us with the technological aspect of the Chinese culture (Marchetti, 2007). The Chinese are well known for their interest in making technological interventions. The appliances in this store prove this fact with audio-visual equipment that was current at that time.

Additionally, this scene reveals the relationship between economics and technology in the modern Chinese culture. Primarily, the Internal Affairs shows the audience new technology- from cell phones and computers to home entertainment. For example, in the stereo shop, Chan and Lau have a chance of listening to and appreciating aural subtitles offered by sound technology. This scene allows us to survey the electronic richness of modern Hong Kong. Ultimately, this is European, Japanese, and American technology through Chinese labor and Hong Kong serves as the market place (Marchetti, 2007). This city acts as the point of transshipment and repackaging. The stereo store is a case study or micro version of the post-war economy in Hong Kong.

In addition to playing a major role in China’s mercantile profile, it also represents its cultural capital that the middle class affords and appreciates. For instance, Lau and Chan buy into it signifying their taste and affluence. Lau uses a credit card to pay for his goods. Marchetti (2007) states that this shows that Lau can afford a stereo thus proving himself credible for credit. Even when operating as a gangster and police officer in the cash economy, Chan has an understanding of credit and its associated status. In this case, the card is a form of identity of the modern Chinese culture. However, we can understand that this service is new and can only be afforded by a significant few. For instance, Chan is bombarded by scenes of other people wielding credit cards while he struggles to stay alive.

Additionally, the film depicts the Urban Chinese environment as one characterized by both legitimate and illegitimate activities of the capitalist economy. For Chan and Lau, as police officers and crooks, they both have an aspiration of acquiring a legitimate businesses or professions, families, and live in flats equipped with up-to-date electronics. The stereo makes concrete of the dream they both share and are desperate to attain. Put together, these two characters are used in the film to display the modern Hong Kong model- the entrepreneur and the bureaucratic. The characters in Hong Kong share common ideals and identity that creates a community designed from a culture of consumerism. They form a part of a worldwide niche market of specialized goods.

In addition to depicting the commerce nature of modern China, the Film also portrays its political economy. In this case, the police officer pretending to be a crook and the crook pretending to be a police officer combine into one system. This is rooted in the illegal triad activities and legitimate colonial control (Marchetti, 2007). With the triads rooted secretly in political agitation against the Chinese drug markets, the group rises from decadence, corruption, and oppression. After Hong Kong’s status as changed to SAR, its mission became less clear, and its identity became less certain.

In this case, Chan and Lau share a common goal of all middle-class folk from the modern Chinese society. They both make an attempt of constructing a solid identity within the small business environment as small-scale shop-owners and midlevel bureaucrats. Even though these identities are false, they do not mar the fact that both characters hold these delusions or fantasies very dear. In addition, the modern condition of the Chinese environment is portrayed as one with ritualized quality shopping with commodities organized carefully for display such as Lau’s honeymoon apartment. This enhances the fetishistic qualities. Identities are crafted carefully through commodities: from popular music and stereo equipment to watches, cell phones, clothing, and furniture. Furthermore, the mode of shopping in the film depicts reverberates transnationally through the media.

The influence of technology on the Chinese culture is in particular predominant when Chan and Lau constantly confront their assumed identities (Marchetti, 2007). This is seen in recorded conversations, reports from nighttime news, and reflections from glass skyscrapers on meetings held on the rooftop. From a different view, the cinematography gives the film moody blues and grays that mirror the sleek computers and skyscrapers that dominate the scenes. For example, one fight scene takes place in a parking garage filled with state of the art cars and scattered puddles, so the actions of the characters are reflected from the puddles. In this scene, Lau and Chan realize that they may have to let go of their dreams. Repercussions and echoes of their alter personas haunt them after this scene until all they have kept for themselves are memories.

Taking another view at the stereo store scene, we can be able to see how the Hong Kong community has been able to transcend from a “castrated” society to one that is saved by the police division. The scene concludes with a presentation of the global Chinese culture that is embodied by two of Hong Kong’s bankable characters. According to Marchetti (2007), as the stereo equipment arranged before them, this scene displays the commerce and art of the modern Chinese environment for enhancing the lives of the locals, as well as the global society.

However, with the technology advancement seen in the film: a modern and seemingly advancement community that operates with lap top computers, cell phones, and miniaturized surveillance cameras, the film also presents the viewer with nostalgia for past technologies. For instance, one scene depicting Mary (Carina Lau), who deals in illegitimate stereo equipment, talking about how her old stereo was cheap but is still running as good as new. In a way, we can deduce that Mary is reminiscent about previous technology and laments about the sudden turn in advancement. From Mary’s point of view, using new technology to facilitate certain actions is a good thing, but one cannot beat the old technology, even though the plot revolves around the new advancement of technology in the form of special effects, computers, laptops, cell phones that blend the old and the new.

Conclusively, ‘The Infernal Affairs’ film is a simple story that manages to incorporate a vast amount of information in a short period. A number of characters are involved, but the film is centered mainly on two: Chan and Lau. Chan and Lau, a police officer and a crook respectively, meet each other in a stereo store but the technological ambience in the scene prevents them from recognizing each other even though they were trained in the same police academy. Ultimately, this scene sparks one of the main themes of the film that revolves around Hong Kong’s modern condition and an urban community. The modern Identity of this community is crafted carefully through a number of technological advancements: from popular music and stereo equipment to watches, cell phones, clothing, and furniture (Marchetti, 2007).



Marchetti, G. (2007). Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal affairs – the trilogy. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.


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