2007 must be an unforgettable year for Hollywood’s ace director Martin Scorcese in which he got his first Oscar award for Best Direction for his film The Departed. It took 30+ years to achieve this though he deserved it years before. Well that’s not our concern here. Actually the best picture winner has its script adapted from one of Hong Kong's best thriller Infernal Affairs (Hong kong title Mou Gaan Dou) directed by Anthony Lau. Both films bear same plot about cat and mouse game between two infiltrators, one in police force and the other an undercover cop inside crime syndicate. What is presented below is about what the similarities and differences these two films have, in my view. It’s not an in-depth analysis of which of these is superior or a detailed plot explanation like one of my previous posts. In fact both are perfect in their own way with few flaws then and there. For simplicity, let me call the two movies in short, i.e. Infernal Affairs as I.A and The Departed as T.D, as they are going to be used below in many instances.
The main roles in both films gave top-notch performance as usual. In IA, the main roles are done by Hong Kong’s well noted actors Andy Lau as the rat inside police force Ming, Tony Leung as the undercover cop Yan, Anthony Wong as supdt. Wong, and Eric Tsang as Hon Sam, the crime boss. Their Hollywood counterparts are Matt Damon as the mole inside Massachusetts Police force Collin Sullivan, titanic boy Dicaprio as Billy Costigan, Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg as superior officers of Costigan, and the shining star Jack Nicholson as Costello. Lets see few more about these two films (there are few spoilers present below).
- Lengthwise, IA is shorter in duration than TD by almost an hour. Things get unfold in a fast pace. But TD takes an elaborate narrative right from the beginning to the bloodshed climax but not slow paced either. TD moves in faster pace similar to IA.
- Both Yan and Billy are tormented by their undercover operation, with a fear that they may lose their real identity. Even their black leather jacket and the beard appear to be same.
- The other moles Ming and Sullivan are two faced and deceitful, except that Ming is remorseful and guilt ridden, kind of less evil. The pre-title sequence in both films shows how Ming and Colin are recruited by their respective bosses and sent to police academy.
- Yan is undercover for 3 years with Sam, and other bosses before. But in TD, Costigan’s undercover operation has completed a year only.
- In IA, there is only supdt. Wong who knows about the undercover operation, and Yan’s identity, whereas in TD, there are Captain Queenan and Sergeant Dignam.
- In IA, Yan uses morse code to communicate with SP Wong, whereas in TD Costigan uses mobile phone to contact Queenan.
- South Boston crime boss Costello is dreadful, spiteful, and violent and of course more menacing than the Traid boss Sam who appears quiet mostly and don’t lose his temper easily. Nicholson’s performance sounded overacting to me in some places, but his presence gives The Departed a powerful villain that is almost missing in IA. In affairs, Sam doesn’t fully trust Yan, whereas in Departed, Costello doesn’t trust Bill, and at the same time has his frustrations over Sullivan too. Also the meeting between Sam – Ming/Costello – Colin in theatre is exactly the same.
- In IA, Lau already has already fiancée Mary, who is a novelist and they move together as the movie progresses. It is she who hears the tape which exposes her lover who he is. Yan on the other hand is in love with his psychiatrist. He also has an ex lover whom he meets her one day with her child, probably Yan’s. In TD, these three roles are bound to a single character as psychiatrist Madolyn (Vera Farminga).
- In TD, The two guys are barely or not even aware of each other’s existence, but sleep with same woman, Madolyn. Thankfully such a nonsensical love triangle is not present in IA.
- The pivotal climax is scene by scene same in both the films, right from the rooftop to the elevator, except that in TD there is another one officer who gets killed. This is absolutely unnecessary.
- In IA, as the story progress we see that all the relations are already established, and things are set in motion. In TD the two guys meet only after the death of Costello whereas in IA, they meet very earlier before Sam’s demise, in a stereo shop, without knowing about each other. Also during the raid and sabotage of drug deal, they both present in the same place.
- Some unnecessary additions are also there in TD. Scorcese regular Alec Baldwin’s character is almost not present in IA. There is no close associate to Sam unlike Mr. French’s character (Ray Winstone) closely moving with Costello. I don’t know why this character even exists in the movie. These two actors were underused in my opinion.
- Another point to note here in TD is its adherence to the moral belief that the bad should be punished for what has been done by him or her. That’s where Sergeant Dignam comes into picture. In IA, the movie ends at the funeral of Yan and what is the fate of Ming is not known though he is now legally clean.
- The consequences of events associated with IA are elaborately shown in Infernal Affairs III which happens to be a semi prequel and semi sequel. In that case TD becomes a remake of Infernal Affairs I, II and III. I must say that Marty has cleverly shown the equivalent of what has happened in IA III, in only one scene, the very last scene of TD (my favorite scene!!).
Overall, both films are masterpieces in which IA gets additional credit for its originality. Without IA, there wouldn’t be another masterpiece from Scorcese. If you have watched TD and haven’t seen IA, watch it asap in its original language because the dubbed English dialogues are not up to the mark. And if you haven’t seen both, proceed with the original first...!!