Spy vs. Spy: Infernal Affairs and The Departed

Infernal Affairs was an absolute break out. The premise is simple.  Drug dealer Hon Sam groomed a man to infiltrate the police department. The police department has tasked a young man to go undercover and infiltrate Hon Sam’s gang. Released in 2002, Infernal Affairs spawned four sequels, prompting Martin Scorcese to remake the film in 2006, titled The Departed. Why the name change? The original title for Infernal Affairs, 某噶暗斗, translates to “A Karma, ” in this sense Scorcese stays true to both the original title and themes. Although it is a cop thriller full of suspense, the most interesting aspect about both films circle around the complexities borne out of living a lie. William Monahan’s choice to combine all three female supporting actresses from Infernal Affairs into Madolyn elvates the film, helped along by Vera Farmiga performance.

Script coverage often advises people to combine characters and in this case it was a stroke of brilliance. Inspector Lau’s girlfriend, Mary is moving in with him. She is a writer and is very observant. In their first scene together, we see Lau duck and dive around movers to escape her. This allows us to know he cares about what she thinks of him. It turns Lau into a character who understands that what he is doing is wrong. If it were not for this, Lau would be nothing more than a henchman. In their freshly furnished apartment, Mary offers a line about a potential character for her novel, one who role-plays his life. It’s an important point for the film delivered a bit heavy handed. This scene is immediately followed up with Tony Leung’s undercover Yan. He is flirting with his therapist, Dr. Lee. This scene shows us his charisma. Since the audience knows the pressure he of the job, it also shows us his isolation. In this scene Dr. Lee reveals that Yan has been sleeping on the couch for 5 months rather than opening up. Yan then reveals to Dr. Lee that he is a cop. We’re left with the impression that she doesn’t believe him, ramping up the feeling of isolation.

In The Departed, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Yan’s role as Billy. Matt Damon’s sarcastic and charming Colin Sullivan is the US interpretation of Inspector Lau.  Monahan’s script spends more time explaining Sullivan. Sullivan is a victim of circumstance. He is a fatherless son of Baltimore, raised in the projects by his Grandmother. The relationship between Sullivan and Madolyn is explored in greater detail in the Departed than its Hong Kong counterpart. We see them meet. They go on a date. They begin to have problems when they move in together. Billy’s relationship with Madolyn is also expanded. Initially antagonistic, Billy’s therapy session with Madolyn allow the viewer to see that he is grieving the loss of his mother and his overwhelming feeling of isolation. This relationship then goes from professional to platonic. Then from Platonic to romantic. All the while doling out questions about deception. Madolyn gives us her reason about lying, she does it to “keep things on an even keel.” She however is surrounded by people who lie for completely different reasons.

This single change in the script allows for clearer foils between the characters. We Sullivan lie over and over again with such a light-hearted affect. And then we see Billy breakdown and be genuine around Madolyn. Both lie, but to who they lie and why they lie reveal to us their character. It is this that makes the audience loathe Sullivan at the end of the film. He is not a villain the way Nicholson’s Frank is a villain. We can respect that type of Villainy. Sullivan is complicit, opportunistic and loyal only to himself. He is a rat.
Rat-Sullivan The Departed
The Departed is 50 minutes longer than Infernal Affairs. Jack Nicholson’s monologues are a great addition to the film. And Mark Wahlberg’s foul mouthed Sergeant Dignam is a true joy to watch. While all those are welcomed additions, It’s my opinion that the greatest addition to The Departed is Madolyn.

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