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Infernal Affairs and the Departed

Updated on May 22, 2017

Infernal Affairs vs The Departed


Many foreign films are subsequently remade in Hollywood. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. American viewers are more likely to see a film in English than watch a movie that is dubbed or has subtitles. Hollywood studios can make money from a film without having to come up with their own idea, and they may have some idea in advance as to how audiences will respond. However, even when a foreign film is remade for an American audience with its plot basically intact, changes still must be made to meet the expectations of this audience, who tend to view films exclusively from their own cultural perspective. An example of a foreign film and its American remake that illustrates this tendency is Mon Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs) and The Departed.

Many American remakes come from foreign films that have achieved success, and the remake in this situation is no expection. Infernal Affairs was the name given to the film Mon Gaan Dou for release in the United States. The film, written by Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong, and directed by Wai-Keung and Siu Fai Mak, was originally released in Hong Kong in 2002. It received several awards and nominations (IMDb). The film’s success in China led to its remake as The Departed , released in 2006. William Monahan redid the original screenplay for the American version and Martin Scorsese served as director. This version won four Oscars and received even more nominations and awards than the original version. Its cast included a plethora of A-list actors (IMDb). The perception of quality filmmaking is clear for both movies.

The two films share similar plot lines. Both movies are about a cop who has infiltrated the Mafia and a mole in the police force. When this is realized, both try to figure out the the identity of the other while remaining undetected. The only major differences between the films are in language and setting. As Roger Ebert said when reviewing The Departed, “Indeed, having just re-read my 2004 review of that film, I find I could change the names, cut and paste it, and be discussing this film” (Ebert). The two movies begin the same way, with the mob bosses talking about their reign over the city and their plan to have a mole in the police force. They next show the officers in a montage of training scenes. A small difference occurs at this point in The Departed, when both officers graduate the training school and the one who is going to infiltrate the mob is given that assignment and goes to jail to cover up his law enforcement past. In Infernal Affairs, the equivalent character is kicked out of the training school so as not to arouse suspicions. Clearly the American filmmakers did not stray far from the original concept.

The similarities extend beyond the basic plot lines. Each character in Infernal Affairs has a parallel in The Departed. In The Departed, the police force informer in the mob is played by Leonardo DiCaprio as Billy Costigan, and in Infernal Affairs he is played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai as Chen Wing Yan. The mole in the police force is played by Matt Damon as Colin in The Departed and Andy Lau as lau Kin Ming in Infernal Affairs (IMDb). The title comes late in both movies, after these two roles have been established . The mob bosses of the films are played by Jack Nicholson in The Departed and Eric Tsang in Infernal Affairs as Frank Costello and Hon Sam, respectively. The head of the police is played by Anthony Wong Chau-Shing as Wong Chi Shing in Infernal Affairs and Martin Sheen as Queenan in The Departed (IMDb). One of the few differences in the latter movie is that Mark Wahlberg plays Dignam, a second in command to Queenan. This character is not present in Infernal Affairs, leaving only one person who knows about the police informant; in the American remake there are two with this knowledge.

The similarity in characters extends to their actions. The movies depict drug deals and other crimes where both informants are trying to help their true boss without being detected. These events happen in almost the same manner in both films, with characters having nearly identical actions and dialogue. Both films come to a climax when the police captain is killed and the informant comes into the police station. He realizes that the cop who called him is the mob’s mole and leaves. When they meet up later, he attempts to arrest the mole, but the encounter ends poorly in an elevator with much bloodshed. The police informant is shot by another officer who also turns out to be a mob mole and then that person is shot by the original mole to keep his identity hidden .

Despite these many similarities, a key difference between the two films emerges toward the end of the films. Perhaps the only difference with any real relevance is an added scene to The Departed which was not present in the original. Infernal Affairs ends at the funeral for the police informant with the mob’s mole in the crowd. The Departed has one final scene following this where Dignam waits in Colin’s apartment and shoots him. This addition is important because it highlights the different expectations that American audiences have for movies. Adding this scene gives a better sense of conclusion and allows law enforcement to have the last word, enhancing the force of their authority.

This pair of movies, Infernal Affairs and The Departed, is almost identical in their entirety, as is true with many remakes of foreign films. The key differences are ones that are ones that attempt to satisfy the expectations of an American audience, meeting cultural expectations for moral resolution.

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