‘ART IMITATING ART’: INFERNAL AFFAIRS V THE DEPARTED

As I am searching through YouTube looking for a free clip of Infernal Affairs (hoping that the piracy police don’t get me) the task of finding one with English subtitles is to my surprise a little harder than first thought. After a couple of minutes, I do manage to find what I am looking for. A minute or so into the first scene, I am already making comparison to its American cousin – The Departed, released four years later in time for Martin Scorsese to snatch up an Oscar before anyone noticed the resemblance. Before you raise your fists and shout ‘American imperialism’, let me tell you that the case of Infernal Affairs and The Departed is a little more complicated than just America ripping off ‘Asian’ content.

 

As I am watching, the expression “art imitates art” ticks over in my mind. There really isn’t an ‘original’ idea. Aside from the fact that The Departed is actually a legitimate remake, a case could be made that Infernal Affairs isn’t really that original either. The premise of the film – a cop goes undercover while a criminal pretends to be a cop is really nothing new. Such themes have been the subject of many other ‘gangster’ films. To make things even more complicated, the directors of Infernal Affairs have teamed up with Martin Scorsese in an Asian-American co-production – ‘Revenge of the Green Dragons’ (Grettel, O 2014, p1).  Clearly, there is a symbiotic relationship between Asian and ‘western’ production houses where material is constantly being ‘borrowed’ and ‘reused’.

 

 

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departed

 

But what exactly makes Infernal Affairs Asian? According to Teo (2013), a film could be considered ‘Asian’ on the basis that we “recognise the presence of Asians, the geophysical locations of Asian cities, its countryside, plains, jungles and deserts” (p219). In the case of Infernal Affairs, the fact that it references Mahayana Buddhism – a dominant religion in Hong Kong, filmed on location in Hong Kong and that it was produced entirely by an Asian production house – ‘Media Asia Films’, one could argue that these elements constitute the film as being  exclusively ‘Asian’.

After watching the film, I found two scenes which contained elements that cannot be anchored to a particular nationality or culture. The first; after Triad boss Hon Sam finishes his speech, he gives each of his apprentices some unknown drink and says ‘bottoms up’ before consuming its contents. It is a universal expression – no matter what language it is communicated in people understand its meaning. Second; good cop (Chan Wing Yan) is asked by a detective “what do you think of me?”. Chan Wing Yan replies “sorry, I’m not sure sir. But I know you’re in a hurry today, coz your socks don’t match”. The detective looks down at his shoes clearly annoyed, while his colleague; a police recruitment officer laughs. After Chan Wing Yan leaves the room, the recruitment officer says; “you owe me $500…I told you he would make the best undercover cop”. For whatever reason I found this to be amusing, indicating that despite perceived  language and cultural barriers, I understood the nuisances between certain characters because of their transnational quality. One solid conclusion that we can draw from both films is that; they are caught up in a rich tapestry of cultural exchanges and interconnectedness.

 

Teo, S 2013, The Asian cinema experience: styles, spaces, theory, Routledge, New York, viewed 12 August 2014, Summons.

Grettel, O 2014, ‘Martin Scorsese-backed Green Dragons to get VOD-first release’, LA Times, 13 August, viewed 25 August 2014, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-martin-scorsese-revenge-of-the-green-dragons-release-date-20140813-story.html

 

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4 comments

  1. Hi Caitlin,
    Interesting post. I like how you explained the way you were defining ‘Asian’ in regards to film. I think it can be a complicated thing to do, especially without unintentionally insulting or isolating people. I certainly think it is a bit easier to define films in such a way, because unlike, say, video games, the themes, characters and locations are often easier to identify.
    The point you made about ‘Internal Affairs’ being a transnational film is an interesting one. And makes me wonder why then in Australia do we not see more ‘Asian’ films, instead of being overwhelmed by American remakes? Do you think other such ‘transnational’ films could be more successful in Australia? And, if so, how?
    Personally I would like to see such films have better commercial success in Australia, and be able to actually go to my local cinema to see more foreign films (not that I have anything against American or British films, but seriously variety is a good thing).
    – Gabi

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your response. It was my intention to kind of get people thinking about the film as being more than just ‘Asian’ because there are elements of the film which can’t be pin pointed to a specific culture or nationality. So I appreciate you kind of expanding on that point (given the word limit I would have liked to talk more about that issue). In terms of its commercial success, I do think it didn’t do too badly according to box office data which I read somewhere. So these kinds of film do have some popularity outside of ‘Asia’. But you do make an interesting point about ‘foreign’ films in Australia and there lack of interest. I guess in terms of how much money they make it does suggest that they aren’t as popular as some of the Hollywood blockbusters. But I do think that Asia cinema does have a niche market in Australia and will continue to grow in future because of our ties to the Asia-pacific region.

    Sorry if I waffled on a bit. Thanks again for your positive feedback.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is actually harder than I thought to get translations. Being an idiot I was using safari on my mac and for some reason I couldn’t find ANYTHING to translate. Turns out all I had to do was change browsers (IDIOIT). Anyway! Language is one of the hardest barriers to cross, especially online where there is no way for body language or symbols for social cues. If something is merely translated wrong your whole perception can be changed. I think its hard to define what makes the movie “Asian” as you say it when it has been translated and manipulated for another audience. Like you mentioned about the “bottoms up” comments. A universal symbol which any culture will understand and respond to. So what culture does it come from? Is there a culture? Is it just universal?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw this article on Tor.com – http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/08/eight-essential-science-fiction-detective-mash-ups – about the relationship between science fiction and crime/detective drama. It got me thinking that one way to expand your approach is to consider the movement of crime drama tropes to other genres – this happens a lot in Sci Fi which tends to focus on either war or crime related plots to drive the narrative, but you also see the rise of the Cop/Buddy comedy thanks to Jackie Chan and his relationship with Hollywood.

    Like

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