The cop and the gangster in the dazzling psychological cat-and-mouse drama Infernal Affairs are as opposite yet entwined as yin and yang. Well, as Ming and Yan. Ming (Andy Lau) is a Mob foot soldier who has infiltrated the Hong Kong police force by passing as a cop. Yan (Tony Leung) is a cop who has gone undercover as a gangster. Ming reports to Sam (Eric Tsang), a paranoid Mob leader; Yan’s commander, Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong), has been after Sam for years. Each boss knows there’s a mole in his house. And both moles know that it’s only a matter of time before a slipup, or an unraveling of their own split identities, will do them in; death is a daily possibility. The premise clicks into place as intricately as Chinese boxes — the mathematics of the plot alone are breathtakingly elegant. But what gives Infernal Affairs its heat is the friction of who-am-I psychology and cool Hong Kong-style action. Directors Andrew Lau (no relation to Andy) and Alan Mak, working from a script by Mak and Felix Chong, observe the internal torments of Ming and Yan (each more and more conflicted about the compromised career he has chosen, each unable to come in from the cold) without a blink, a back pat, or an unnecessary speech. The filmmakers entrust the hard work to stars Lau (the Hong Kong pop superstar, soon to be seen in House of Flying Daggers) and Leung (the muse of Wong Kar-Wai, currently costarring in Hero). And the two men prowl and circle one another with a balletic intensity that makes words superfluous, saving the analytical talk for the women in their lives: Yan can’t sleep and sees a shrink (Kelly Chen); Ming can’t stop brooding in the presence of his wife (Sammi Cheng), who writes mysteries. Then it’s time for another throat-clutching action sequence, on streets and rooftops and in an underground parking lot. The icy blue look is, once again, attributable to the invaluable visual consultant Christopher Doyle (Hero).
Infernal Affairs — released in Hong Kong in 2002 to box office rapture and critical awards — is, following Hero, the latest Asian acquisition to be released by Miramax after a contemplative monks-only-know-why delay. Those who don’t want to meditate on when, or if, they’ll ever see the prequel and sequel in theaters are encouraged to hit websites selling the Hong Kong DVDs. Now.