Infernal Affairs

International Cinema’s last lecture of the semester discussed the 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs.

PROVO, Utah (April 7, 2015)—One theme constantly reoccurring in films from Hong Kong between 1993 and the present is “the Handover.” The Handover, or “the Return” refers to the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China, which occurred on July 1, 1997.

One such film is Infernal Affairs (2002), directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. Taking place just five years after the Handover, the crime-thriller follows two police officers: one officer who breaks into a triad—an organized crime group in China—and one officer secretly working for the same gang.

“To understand the film you have to have a little context,” Matt Ancell from the Department of Comparative Arts and Letters said, noting that it was a time with a lot of political uncertainty. “There’s a lot of anxiety, and the film does address that directly.”


The film touches on concerns and debates that began to arise after the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which declared that despite its return to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system would remain intact until 2047, a period of 50 years.

Due to the anxiety that this caused, a lot of intellectual talent fled Hong Kong, said Ancell. The film highlights the rampant Chinese black market and intellectual property piracy, including film piracy. “It’s a meta-film about film in Hong Kong,” said Ancell.

Ancell showed part of the film’s opening scene, which takes place in a Hong Kong technology shop selling goods such as speakers and music. He pointed out the scene’s irony, which depicted an honest business dealing, despite the fact that the two characters in the dealing are both corrupt.

Infernal Affairs illustrates a fusion between technology and economics, as well as old versus new technology.

“The film is indebted to Hollywood in many ways,” Ancell said, noting a connection to films like The Godfather (1972)and Heat (1995). According to Ancell, Infernal Affairs received significant critical acclaim and came out at a time when Hong Kong’s film industry was not in great shape. The film won seven awards at the 22nd Hong Kong Film Awards and was ranked No. 30 in Empire magazine’s “100 Best Films of World Cinema” in 2010. Ancell remarked that the film has some of the best actors in Hong Kong’s industry.

Though the film is a high-paced crime thriller, it touches on weighty issues that China continues to wrestle with. Ancell gave a suggestion for anyone watching the film: “Think about the idea of the identity of Hong Kong as these characters fight for their own identities.”

—Danielle Chelom Leavitt (B.A. Russian ’15)