Infernal Affairs vs. The Departed: Where The Original Is Really The Bad First Draft

One of my favourite movies of the last decade is Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. The Departed is a remake of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. For the last, however long, I’ve been hearing nothing other than the usual “oh the original is better” kind of talk from everyone.

This past weekend I finally sat down to watch Infernal Affairs and all I can honestly say is that Scorsese did it better. In The Departed Scorsese took the time to actually set up these characters for us by showing us how they both ended up on the other side of the gun and for what reasons over a period of near forty-five minutes. In Infernal Affairs Chen (the role of Billy Costigan in The Departed) is undercover in a matter of less than ten minutes with a series of flashbacks, voice over and a series of quick cuts and shoddily explained back-story. The film’s setup is completely rushed and feels more and more as you go along like the entire film was made solely so that they could get to the final plot twist or I don’t know what. The film’s entire meaning was lost to me while I saw a ridiculously under-produced version of the finished product.

I’ve yet to delve into the sequels – which I intend to do in coming weeks – but somehow I feel like Hong Kong’s style of filmmaking got in the way of the movie being good. There’re things in this movie that I notice in other Hong Kong films that I feel just didn’t work in this story. One of those things is that when every so often the film wants to transition from one scene to the next the scene will end on a frame and it will linger there and a half minute later dissolves into the next scene. It’s just poor filmmaking. I know when I sit down to watch a 90s John Woo film to expect these kinds of things, but with a film as revered as this I’m disappointed.

Why The Departed works and this doesn’t has to do with the fact that The Departed takes its time and every scene which people probably thought “that’s a really cool thing for the character to do” Scorsese allowed the scene to actually fit into a fluid plot rather than just stick out and seem like we’re watching a sketch comedy short where we have to assume so much in order to get the eventual pay off.

Part of me is just mad at myself. As much as I complain about Infernal Affairs I wonder how my feelings would be different if I had actually seen it before I had seen The Departed. While I honestly feel that the remake is far superior to the original I have no way of telling if my reaction to the original would’ve been this negative at the time. With that said, that’s what I think and that’s that.

What do you think of The Departed vs. Infernal Affairs Discussion?

 

  • Helfrich24

    You really need to watch more Hong Kong films. Your lack of exposure and bias is evident here.

  • http://www.gmanreviews.com Andrew Robinson

    Any that you particularly recommend?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dickson-Wong/708246041 Dickson Wong

    Dude, the original is much more profound and meaningful than the remake, watch the whole series of the original at once then make your judgement again. BTW, the scene in your photo is an actual audiophile store with real audiophile equipment, whereas the remake uses “Bose”. From this little detail, I could tell you the original have done far more research than Hollywood.

  • http://www.facebook.com/terrence.yap Terrence Yap

    AI is a trilogy have you even watched the whole trilogy before typing in

    “In The Departed Scorsese took the time to actually set up these characters for us by showing us how they both ended up on the other side of the gun and for what reasons over a period of near forty-five minutes. In Infernal Affairs Chen (the role of Billy Costigan inThe Departed) is undercover in a matter of less than ten minutes with a series of flashbacks, voice over and a series of quick cuts and shoddily explained back-story”

    AI2 shows the slow, painful and reluctant infiltration of both characters into the police and triads respectively. IT definitely paints a more better and complete portrait of both character than The Departed.

    Also if understand Chinese you’ll know why it’s the movie is titled after the last and most terrible stage of Hell in Buddhism; “Avici”, the “uninterrupted” Naraka. Ming is destined to spend his entire life replaying the sins that he committed in his head while his body wilts away from his failed suicide attempt.

  • Carl

    A Bullet In the Head – John Woo’s best imo

  • ruben

    i think they are both equally good i think infernal affairs does a better job at showing the emotion impact of being undercover for song long has on the two main characters then the departed does but i think both  them are equally good. this is a rare occasion when the remake is every bit as good as the original.

  • Jeremy

    The people I’ve met who have seen both most will agree The Departed is the superior film.  The ones who crow about Infernal Affairs be soooo much better I’ve found are typically mindless asiaphiles or foreign film snobs.  Most of the time they can’t even explain why they think it’s better.

  • Ank Verburg

    That says more about the people you meet than anything else. Dickson Wong already gives a good example about why he feels that more research has gone into the original film. I think it was more a case of product placement – Bose paying for being shown in the film. This is pretty standard for Hollywood films and I wouldn’t say it adds to the credibility.

    I think both films are very good and I would say that comparing them in terms of greatness is pointless.

    I think Scorsese does a good job in big gestures with big personalities (Jack Nicholson for example) and shocking the audience a few times, like when this guy comes down the building. These in-your-face scenes have a big element of surprise and come paired with emotions to match.

    I think the gritty atmosphere, the cold colors and the dynamics in the relationships between the main characters work well in Infernal Affairs. Also, since I don’t live in Hong Kong and don’t watch many HK films, I think it’s a very interesting film because there are less familiar aspects in the film.

  • Em

    Then let me explain.  I really, really wanted to like The Departed.  A film I loved being remade be one of my all time favourtie Directors.  I was really looking forward to this.  But I was really disapointed by the way it was changed.  The whole point of the orginal trilogy was the effect that having to live a lie has on a person.  Both of the two main characters had been undercover for years and had against their better judgement become attached to the people who they knew at one point they would have to betray.  In The Departed the only motivation of the two leads was not to get discovered.

  • Jeremy

    You obviously didn’t watch it very closely then.  Both of them in The Departed have periods of second thoughts because of the human face they know see for the “enemy” that they’ve been undercover in for so long. 

  • Matt Lo

    Infernal Affairs makes a lot of references through colloquialisms and through the linguistic and emotional expression of the characters. A lot can be lost if one is watching it with subtitles and without the understanding of the cantonese language. 

    I also found the makers of the Departed anxious to create necessary closure and absolutism to the story. For example, Mark Wahlberg’s character, which did not exist in the original movie, diminish the sense of subtlety and sophistication in the notion of being mole, and serves the purpose to create a kind of closure at the end of the movie by killing off Matt Damon’s character. As a character itself, Dignam has little effect on the story itself, but provide the audience with an absolute ending, by the elimination of the supposed antagonist of the story, Sullivan. The makers of Departed also tries in a few other points in the movie to establish absolutism by expressing which characters are righteous, and which are corrupted. However, that is exactly the problem I have with the Departed. It is quick to develop a moral divide and choose sides for the audience, deciding which characters are just, and which are not. 
    The original movie does a good job to keep moral ambiguity as a prominent factor throughout the movie. The audience is free to place their empathy, choose their sides. At the end of Infernal Affairs, the movie simply delivers a neutral ending, where characters’s ultimate fate do not necessary align with what they deserve. 

    The film makers should be able to trust their audience enough to not hand-hold them through the entire story. That, in a way, makes the movie a much cruder one and takes away much potential for thought.  

  • http://twitter.com/chargeman thetaskmaster

    Infernal Affairs is 5.5 hours long.  It’s 3 movies.  If you watch that, you’ll see that the story is 3x deeper and spans a decade.

    Not to mention Infernal Affairs 1 is the tightest and most intense 90 minutes you’ll find anywhere and still makes you feel more than The Departed’s 2.5 hours, huge budget, and comically over-the-top violence and dirty language.

  • Vietpride

    You’re such a retardo for not understanding how Asian culture works and is depicted in movies. Wtf man!

  • Luka

    This review did a much better analysis than u do in yours of being lack of understanding the original moive.

    http://dacouchtomato.blogspot.com/2009/01/departed-vs-infernal-affairs.html 

  • Luka

    First, I do have to give credit to The Departed for only borrowing about ninety percent of the Infernal Affairsstoryline and trying to pump up the remainder. However, the additional pumping added about fifty minutes to the run time of the film causing it to lull in spots. Affairs ran at a taut 101 minutes and was still able to build a much stronger connection between Lau and Leung’s characters and the audience. Even though all actors in both films delivered superb performances, Lau sold his anguish and his struggle between the good side and the bad side better than Damon. This was important because it left the audience feeling for both characters during the crucial standoff and made the stakes higher for our heroes.
    The elements unique to The Departed did give the story a more “complete” feel, but the elements unique to Infernal Affairs gave the story more heart and depth. Explicitly showing everything in a film does not necessarily make it a better film. Sometimes audiences like to use more than just their eyes. Though both are excellent films in their own right, Infernal Affairs is my choice… by a hair.

  • Samng26

    if you could understand chinese you would actual understand the characters and get it/

  • Carl2

     one nite in mongkok

  • Anon

    Typical case of hey look at me I’m so edgy and different from the rest hurr

  • Mike

    The Departed cut the whole secret telegraph communication system out of the movie, and the characters use regular cell phones, which also includes cutting out the scene in Infernal Affairs where all the cops have to shut off their phone, cause they know they have a mole in the ranks…..

    Alot of other bits that make Infernals Affairs a better movie have also been cut in The Departed

    The character building your talking about is boring way too long and drawn out,
    This form of story telling has been used in every other movie since the beginning of time, not fresh at all.

  • Mike

    and why so much God Damned cursing in this Mother Fucking Movie???
    fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck
    lol

  • lokexinxun

    The stool pigeon.
    Flash Point(Really good)
    or any of anthony wongs movies lol

  • Acute nurse

    You don’t need to understand Chinese to understand I.F.
    It is 100 times better than The Departed. I sit down and often watch the 3 DVDs and I’m Irish!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BFLVZZMHXTFF2ZMMU2ZM4UK2KE Waldo

    i think a lot has to do with our culture and personal preferences when watching a movie. to me, a chinese (hongkongnese to be precise) born in the netherlands, grown up in a mixed culture. i prefer infernal affairs.

    i saw this movie first and it was great. a remake on an already great movie to me seems a bit cheap, but whatever, both sides agreed so nothing the audience can do :P i watched the departed, it was quite good but it’s so made for the american audience, the stuff we’re used to (the majority of movies i watch are american movies as well). there are many bits (which were left out in departed) that made infernal affairs better to me.

    i guess the language also has a lot to do with it. subtitles never do justice to the original dub, it’s just not possible. it’s like watching the old stephen chow movies with english subtitles, you only get 50% of the humor out of the original. hell, let’s not even talk about actors you recognize and actors you don’t. everyone is prejudiced. anyway, to each his own eh :)

    btw i read your post about some good recommendations of movies from hong kong, here are some: running out of time (andy lau and lau ching wan) and the mad detective (lau ching wan and andy on). really great movies, you should watch them!

  • European

    Internal affairs is a better movie because you need to think by yourself. I dislike Hollywood movies where they tell you every single thing that happens. They didnt before and many movies dont do it anymore so hopefully I can soon start to watch more american movies but not remakes.

  • Abhishek Ghosh

    Infernal Affairs is definitely a great movie. But the only thing that matters is that the acting department is better in The Departed.
    The editing and pacing is way much faster in the infernal affairs than the departed.

  • azkoncept six

    Scorcese takes a script for a movie and recreates it for the western audience, and then wins an award. Yet Again, Literally half of the planet is giving him all the credit for penning “SUCH” a good script…. The original is better. If you don’t think so, i want to believe that you lack culture. As for the departed, all i could pay attention to was damon’s thick boston accent and dicaprios BLEEDING heart (seriously, he needs to grow one or two or use a voice changer) because i already knew the story. Jack nicholson did nothing for me, nor did any of the other characters.

    In fact, the only good thing about the departed was mark wahlberg and leguizamo.

  • azkoncept six

    Fulltime Killer
    Any anthony wong movies (lol) (and agreed, very much so)
    Young and dangerous series
    PORTLAND STREET BLUES (must see)

  • azkoncept six

    Actually let me take back my last comment. First of all i was biased when watching the departed because i saw IA123 first. The only thing original about the departed was mark wahlberg, besides that i felt like i was watching Infernal affairs 1,2 AND 3 again, only set in boston and starring hollywood’s equivalent to hong kong’s all star cast. The you tube video below is describes how similar both movies are in terms of plot/event. It doesn’t matter which version you saw first or which one you like better but the fact is, there was nothing original about the departed and to give scorsaysay the credit he receives for that movie is like watching a soldiers award purple hearts to politicians sitting in office.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVX3pHHrJ0w

  • RonReg

    I saw Infernal Affairs on a whim while working at Blockbuster. I thought it was really good and clever. Nothing that I had seen before, especially out of the East. But then Marty did it and I was disappointed because everyone was saying how awesome this movie was. When I watched it I was thinking….I’ve seen this before. Maybe Scorcese did it better, maybe not. All I know is that the original always gets the nod because it was created from nothing. When you see awesome then try to make it or succeed in making it “awesomer” did you really do anything genius? Not really. Not at all. I am disappointed in Marty. Couldn’t enjoy the Departed because it was a movie I’d seen before.

  • Sam A

    Don’t know what you are talking about, but nothing in American cinema in this genre compares to Infernal Affairs trilogy!!!! Especially, the departed. How can the departed and IA compare, it’s original vs copy?? P. S. I am American.

  • Alex

    Infernal Affairs as a stand alone film doesn’t hold a candle to the Departed. The Departed had a emotionally mature outlook with its cynical and morally ambiguous tone. The ending was also far more sophisticated and satisfying as it reflected the classic Scorsese cynicism that made his past films like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas iconic. Infernal Affairs in comparison relied on excessive melodrama which often pandered to the audience a sense of sympathy, but in terms of depth and characterization it was definitely style over substance. It never took the time to develop its characters or make you really care about their decisions or their connections with the world around them.Yes the character backstory was covered in the IA sequels, but it doesn’t have the same punch because the first IA cares more about its visual flair and melodramatic antics instead of focusing on any lasting emotional truths. For me Infernal Affairs just came off as a lesser version of Hard Boiled since Andy Lou’s character is essentially the same as he was in John Woo’s mega hit.

    I’ve heard zealot supporters of Asian cinema argue that IA is better as a trilogy in comparison to the Departed, but a movie saga is held together, not only by its consistency as a Saga, but also by the quality of the individual entries as stand alone pictures and as a stand alone film IA rings shallow in comparison to the Departed. Truly great cinema is usually morally ambiguous and The Departed, unlike Infernal Affairs doesn’t need to force its sense of morality down the throats of its audience.

  • TWJ

    They’re both good movies. The Departed improves on Infernal Affairs in a few respects, but it also changes a lot of things for the worse.

  • Monica

    Exactly what I was thinking when I watched both movies. Mark Wahlberg’s character does indeed diminish the impact of being a mole, especially in the scene in Infernal Affairs where Tony Leung’s mentor dies, and he realizes that his only hope of freedom is gone, thus making it logical for him to take things into his own hands and go after Andy Leung / Matt Damon and ultimately leading to his death.

    This intrinsic almost father-son relationship is missing in The Departed, and in fact a lot of Infernal Affairs’ subtlety was lost when the film was Americanized with the (typically Hollywood) additions of sex and more action. I also much preferred and agree also on how Infernal Affairs delivers a much more thought provoking ending. To what extent will you go to protect your identity? Do you really need to have a complete, just ending all the time just to make your audience happy and fit it into the block?

    Also, as an aside, I found the scene where Jack Nicholson insults and mocks the obviously HK gangsters (they were speaking cantonese, but Jack said they were “Taiwanese” which is even more insulting) for bringing machine guns extremely demeaning and unnecessary. Thus is the typical Hollywood portrayal of Asians as gangsters, and having Jack Nicholson put them down can actually be once again led to the same argument of Westerners trying to prove that they dominate Asians, when the irony is that without Asia, they wouldn’t even have this film.

    Also, whoever wrote this article was pretty dumb and I personally thought the build up of 45 minutes that he so loved was boring and draggy.

  • Adam

    I could list all the flaws of The Departed alone that it would debunk your article and more, still I give credit for it’s take of the original and reproducing it so it better incorporates western cultural themes and atmosphere. Which I suppose is why it won its awards, it is extensively underwhelming though from a point of grasping the various themes that made the original better: overcoming personal duality, morality and karma.

    Ehem, I do have to mention two serious and vital flaws in The Departed:

    1)The choppiness in transition and cuts completely blank me out, I honestly don’t know why each scene cut to the next has to jump off a diving board into space and then drill itself into the earth. It’s so unnatural and it makes me cringe, as I’ve seen the original first to see how they try to basically stuff the trilogy into one remake. This might be my taste in cinema, but I feel that longer and more atmospheric shots is what made the original amazing, because it allows the audience to embrace the emotional pacing and dissection of characters in any given scene. (plus the swearing in The Departed essentially tore down this whole aspect down)

    2) This one really only applies to one scene, but I think they should’ve cast better Cantonese actors for the microchip transaction scene. Yes, I do speak Cantonese and I can tell you the grammar was A-T-R-O-C-I-O-U-S. Like I said not a big deal for one particular scene to make The Departed “bad”, but if you want to take into account the synergy of importance in similarities from the original, you can say that Scorsese completely trashed this memorable scene that was executed with such brilliance in the original.

    However, The drug/microchip transaction scene should not be overlooked because it is “the” driving force behind the plot as it leads to the discovery of moles in both the gang and in the police force, which the movie bases itself upon. The absence of suspense and emotional grief in where the moles were in desperation to aid their respective bosses was a serious blow to what could’ve improved on the movie in its entirety.

  • Db

    yeah was about to say it was a trilogy.. I still like the original better

  • Db

    special identity starring donnie yen