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Episode 154 - Infernal Affairs vs. The Departed (w/ Andrew Ti)


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Poll: Episode 154 - Infernal Affairs vs. The Departed (w/ Andrew Ti) (28 member(s) have cast votes)

Which film should enter The Canon?

  1. Infernal Affairs (16 votes [57.14%])

    Percentage of vote: 57.14%

  2. The Departed (12 votes [42.86%])

    Percentage of vote: 42.86%

Vote Guests cannot vote

#1 Dalton Maltz

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Posted 13 May 2018 - 07:10 PM

Andrew Ti (Yo, Is This Racist?) joins Amy this week to pit the 2002 Hong Kong crime-thriller “Infernal Affairs” against it’s Scorsese-directed 2006 remake “The Departed.” They discuss the Hong Kong identity, the operatic inspiration of “Infernal Affairs,” and both films’ hidden symbolism. Plus, they compare the films’ respective criminals before making their final cases as to which film should enter The Canon.

#2 HoldenMartinson

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Posted 14 May 2018 - 12:37 AM

What is so striking about The Departed is how addictive it is. This is something that almost all of Scorsese's crime films have in common. Like Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street on either side of The Departed, these movies are insanely sleek and watchable. I love how tense this film is, I love characters like Mark Wahlberg, and I love the sense of place we get with Boston that we don't really get with Infernal Affairs. So, I'm a little torn, because I do prefer the moral ambiguity and soulfulness of Infernal Affairs, which is a little jagged, but taut and thrilling, even if the hands at work aren't as graceful as Scorsese's.

I come back to an idea posed in the episode for the first two The Decline of Western Civilization films: Better films versus better stories. Does one prefer a stronger demonstration of the medium's technical powers, or what works really well within that medium?

I suppose I prefer The Departed as a movie, but not much as a work of storytelling. What is this film even about? Crime catches up with a person? Rats are everywhere, including nice apartments? Is Leonardo a Christ figure? The film's a neat trick--a great one, even--but not particularly insightful. For as gripping and realized as The Departed is as an effortless exercise in craft, Infernal Affairs is much clearer and more accomplished in their goals, because what good is a well-made movie like The Departed if it never arrives anywhere? Though The Departed has been a favorite for years--and will remain so, despite its shortcomings--I have to give this to Internal Affairs.

#3 Paul

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Posted 14 May 2018 - 02:33 AM

The most obvious bit of symbolism that seemed to get missed in this podcast is - Posted Image
The visibly black character with the white heart is chasing a visibly white character with a dark heart, and vice versa.

#4 daustin

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Posted 14 May 2018 - 06:38 AM

I'd certainly go with the original here (which was a blockbuster, maybe not in America, but a massive success at home), instead of the well-made but mostly derivative remake. Though if it were just up to me, I'd probably go with Infernal Affairs II, which I prefer to both. It has a more emotional heart, whereas Infernal Affairs is a very cold movie.
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#5 Cronopio

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Posted 14 May 2018 - 08:55 AM

In his documentary "My Journey Through American Movies" Scorsese makes a strong case for the importance of genre movies, especially as a vehicle for filmmakers to explore social themes by smuggling them as subtext under the thrills of the plot, and I think it's interesting that his own excursions into full blown genre film-making like "The Departed" and "Cape Fear" don't seem to have all that much under the surface. Can't he take his own advice? (I also read him quoted as saying that after he made the caper film "Boxcar Bertha" John Cassavetes told him "you just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit" so maybe making genre movies makes him feel like he's slumming it.) In any case, I don't see much of what makes Scorsese interesting in this movie, not even stylistically, except for a few flourishes in the editing, and the movie is fun but feels bloated and pointless. "Infernal Affairs" on the other hand embraces its low-budget genre origins, runs with its premise, and finds more subtext and meaning despite not having the trappings of a big film. I get that the premise is ludicrous, as Andrew Ti points out, but aren't most genre movies predicated on some big silly "what if" idea? Like, what if a scientist became a fly? What if the bus explodes if it goes under 55 miles an hour? etc.

I've watched The Departed three times, and the last two times I've been wishing it had been directed by Michael Mann or Kathryn Bigelow instead. I think they would have gotten more juice out of it, and there probably wouldn't have been so much "Gimme Shelter" on the soundtrack.

#6 AbeFroman

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Posted 14 May 2018 - 10:47 AM

As a Bostonian, I used to love The Departed. And while it remains supremely entertaining, it’s also a complete mess.

Nicholson is a disaster and many of its themes (racism, father figures, impotence, masculinity) are ultimately abandoned.

The Canon definitely needs some Hong Kong action and IA would be a worthy addition. To that end, I would love to see Hard Boiled or City on Fire receive consideration given their impact on action and crime genre films.

Also the rat at the end is indeed too on the nose. However, the very posh Beacon Hill in Boston (the location of Matt Damon’s apartment) is legendary for its rat problem. As the screenwriter is also from Boston, I can’t help but sense that the setting was deliberate.



#7 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 14 May 2018 - 02:18 PM

Honestly, if this were just a yes-or-no vote on either movie I'd probably vote no. I think both are good and entertaining, but I'm not sure that either is an all-time great.

So I'll go with The Departed, just because I find it better-directed and a smoother watch (despite being much longer). I'm not sure I agree with those above who claim that it's "emptier" than Infernal Affairs. Both are nihilistic films that arrive at a nihilistic point by different means. Both also pretty much state their themes outright. Infernal Affairs has the closing narration, putting a button on the idea of one man remaining in his own personal hell. The Departed has one of Nicholson's early lines (I'll paraphrase): "Cops or criminals . . . when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?" Scorsese's movie is about how a life spent in these organizations can hollow a man out -- Damon's blankly self-interested performance fits perfectly with that theme, and the only character who makes it out alive is Walhberg's, a guy who resigned and went rogue to track down the mole. Scorsese has certainly addressed this theme plenty of times in his mob movies, but I think this is the first time he's also shown it from the cops' side.

The Departed didn't get much defense in the podcast, so I'll make some points in its favor. I think the action sequences are much better-staged and the violence more impactful. In Infernal Affairs, the action often reads like a muddle of slow-motion shots of dudes shooting guns (not exactly on John Woo's level of visual poetry). The Hong Kong directors sometimes have the camera pointlessly moving or swirling around the characters' heads for no reason, while Scorsese's direction is much more considered and purposeful. I like the way the American film fleshes out the supporting characters, so that there is a better sense of the world and what the two "moles" are missing out on by having to constantly hide their true selves. Infernal Affairs, by contrast, has two female characters who don't do anything and not that much time for deepening relationships with the "father" figures. For all the complaints about the music in The Departed, it also does a much better job of communicating time and place than the generic pop music in Infernal Affairs.

I do see the argument that Infernal Affairs had a larger impact on Hong Kong cinema (where it's an all-time popular success) than The Departed did on American cinema (where it's one of many good-to-great crime movies and seen as more of a "career" Oscar for Scorsese). So if the former gets voted in, that's fair. But I enjoy watching The Departed more. It's possible I might be racist.

#8 Cronopio

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Posted 15 May 2018 - 10:06 AM

View Postsycasey 2.0, on 14 May 2018 - 02:18 PM, said:

Honestly, if this were just a yes-or-no vote on either movie I'd probably vote no.


Totally agree.

#9 FictionIsntReal

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Posted 15 May 2018 - 03:38 PM

I found The Departed enjoyable enough, but it's by no means top-tier Scorsese. It's Best Picture win was clearly intended to make up for all the more deserving films from Scorsese which lost out. I would never vote it into the Canon... except that the choice is between it and Infernal Affairs. I watched the latter after The Departed and was greatly disappointed. We're supposed to believe that Lau Kin-Ming is conflicted because his girlfriend talks about a character in her story who is. Having a third party say all this is the WORST form of storytelling. I don't recall him actually acting in a way that indicated he was reluctant to act as a mole, so he came across just as dislikeable & self-serving as Sullivan in The Departed, except I'm not supposed to feel bad for Sullivan but instead be happy Dignan kills him (followed by the admittedly excessively hamhanded visual metaphor). I'll watch Crimes and Misdemeanors when I want to see a director actually tackling guilt over unforgivable actions.

To me the Whitey Bulger analogy helped The Departed, because stories of moles can often seem rather implausible but that was an example of how the nature of law enforcement can lead to corruption. Having the crowd of ten or so guys all formally embarking on infiltrating the police at the beginning of the film did not ring as true, and also removed the later surprise about other moles in the police.

Also, I have to bring up the cheesy slow motion & music every time a major character died. Perhaps that's common in Hong Kong, but it just seemed lame to me as an American. And however big a hit that was over there, I don't feel the need to put it in the Canon here. If you want to include a Hong Kong cop movie, go with something from John Woo.

#10 Susan*

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Posted 15 May 2018 - 05:32 PM

Ordinary People is one of my favorite movies. The three leads are wonderful. The final scene between Donald Sutherland and Timothy Hutton is perfect. It's a realistic depiction of something that could have been my midwestern town/school/friends when I was a teenager.

I saw Raging Bull a long time ago. I understand why it was a huge achievement, and I usually like movies that feature unlikeable leads, but I didn't enjoy it and I never want to see it again. Cathy Moriarty was the best thing--love her. I don't know about direction and who should have won best director but Ordinary People was the better movie. I want to get that off my chest.

Scorsese movies are always worth watching, though I rarely like them. I strongly dislike ones like Cape Fear, where the camera work is so obvious it distracts from the movie. I prefer the small flawed movies with goofy elements like After Hours. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore might be a perfect film though.

When I saw The Departed I was surprised and relieved that I liked the movie the whole way through--Maybe I was too easy on it. But I would have given the Oscar to The Queen. I really love that movie, not just Helen Mirren. The Queen accomplished what it needed to do. And I could watch the scene where the girl gives the flowers to Helen Mirren and cry right now.

#11 Susan*

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Posted 15 May 2018 - 05:36 PM

View Postsycasey 2.0, on 14 May 2018 - 02:18 PM, said:

Honestly, if this were just a yes-or-no vote on either movie I'd probably vote no.

This.

But I voted for Infernal Affairs.

#12 Cronopio

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Posted 16 May 2018 - 08:43 AM

View PostSusan*, on 15 May 2018 - 05:32 PM, said:

Ordinary People is one of my favorite movies.


'Ordinary People' is an underrated movie that has become unfairly maligned because of its Oscar win over 'Raging Bull'. I love them both, they are incomparable.

#13 bleary

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Posted 16 May 2018 - 11:35 AM

What makes this tough is that neither of these films are perfect. While Infernal Affairs is a little terse, The Departed is painfully bloated, and it seems like there's a version that could exist that is able to more adequately explain Lau/Sullivan's turn against Sam/Costello without adding 50 minutes.

Anyway, I thought this was going to be close before the rewatch. I originally saw The Departed either in theaters or shortly thereafter and discovered Infernal Affairs around 5 years ago, and I enjoyed both versions. Watching them back-to-back this week made it clear which I found more Canon-worthy.

When judging a film against its remake, the question is whether the differences in the remake add enough to overcome the deficiency in originality. Although I still enjoy The Departed, I feel like it fails in this regard. The change of setting from Hong Kong to Boston loses all the political complications of the British-Chinese transfer and replaces it with a boilerplate "Boston is racist" view. (Does Martin Scorsese hate Boston? Or are audiences supposed to applaud the constant homophobic slurs and people getting into fistfights over nothing? It just serves to make all the characters seem incredibly stupid.) As pointed out in the episode, the addition of the character of Dignam can almost be seen as a third-act plot hole, and seems to only exist so that someone is around to kill Sullivan in the end, which I'll get back to. And of course, why have three female characters when you can just have one? Yes, I know that the three females in Infernal Affairs are non-characters, and that Mary's debate about whether her protagonist is a good guy or a bad guy is as on the nose as, say, a rat running past the Massachusetts State House. But having Madolyn fill all the female roles doesn't make her any more of a fully-realized character. If anything, it makes her more of a plot device, as we see her only in relation to the (quasi-literal) dick-measuring contest between Sullivan and Costigan. Mary and Dr. Lee in Infernal Affairs at least seemed to have lives outside of their relationships to the main characters, even if those lives were not depicted on screen.

And finally, we have the major character change from Lau to Sullivan. Lau is a guy growing up in a rapidly changing city wrestling with right versus wrong versus pure self-interest. Sullivan goes full heel, and is conveniently a bad guy the entire film. As such, there's zero conversation to be had about Sullivan's actions. When he turns on Costello, it's because he felt betrayed by the fact he was working with the FBI. When he kills Costello's other mole after Costigan is shot, it's to tie up another loose end. When he recommends Costigan for a medal, it's clearly posturing. Conversely, Lau praises Yan because he actually respects the integrity and bravery that Yan showed. When he kills Sam's other mole who shot Yan, it's almost as much out of disgust at Sam's network as it is out of self-preservation. And when he initially turns on Sam...well, like I said at the beginning, that is a bit underwritten, but I read it as taking revenge against the father-figure who disrespects him for killing the father-figure in SP Wong who was supportive of him. But overall, the ending with Lau living on in moral misery, as in purgatory or in hell, is so much more interesting than the ending where the bad guy gets shot in the head and the credits roll.

So yeah, Scorsese took this film about Buddhist morality and turned it into a film about dicks. (Good guy - dick works! Bad guy - dick doesn't work! Gangster - dick works but sperm doesn't!) And again, I still have to say that this is probably one of my top 5 favorite Scorsese films, alongside Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, and Hugo. It has some great performances and some fantastic scenes. But it turns out that most of those fantastic scenes already existed in the original version. My vote goes to Infernal Affairs.

#14 50 Shades of Chauncey Gardiner

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Posted 16 May 2018 - 08:50 PM

This "Scorsese only won his Oscar because he was overdue!" argument is revisionist history bullshit.

His previous two films before The Departed (Gangs of New York and The Aviator) both made serious plays for Oscar gold. The former literally spelling it out during the award-season campaigning that it wasn't about the film itself but about Scorsese's career as a whole and they still went Roman Polanski instead. Side-note: the fact the Academy has now severed ties with Polanski because it's politically convenient cements how full of shit they are. Seriously, Academy, go fuck yourself. The latter marked off every checkpoint for the kind of film the Academy traditionally tended to honor. In fact before Million Dollar Baby came outta nowhere to surprise, it appeared The Aviator would be the film to give Scorsese his Oscar... until it didn't.

The fact is The Departed came upon it's Oscar glory because everything else touted out to dominate by the same "Oscarologists" who are wrong nine times out of ten flamed out due to excessive pre-release overhype (Flags of Our Fathers, Babel and especially Dreamgirls). It was a major commercial hit with audiences and one of the top reviewed films that year. 100% independent of any chance of winning Oscars.

Say what one will about The Departed (good or bad), but enough with the notion it's win was all about "overdue status." If the Academy wanted to give Scorsese his trophy just for the sake of doing so, they would have in 2003 and 2005.

#15 bleary

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Posted 16 May 2018 - 10:18 PM

View Post50 Shades of Chauncey Gardiner, on 16 May 2018 - 08:50 PM, said:

Say what one will about The Departed (good or bad), but enough with the notion it's win was all about "overdue status." If the Academy wanted to give Scorsese his trophy just for the sake of doing so, they would have in 2003 and 2005.


You're right that he should have been given his due in 2003 and 2005. Hence in 2007, he would have been...

#16 Johnny Pomatto

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Posted 17 May 2018 - 02:31 PM

I've been on vacation this week so I wasn't able to rewatch either of these films but I've seen them many times before and enjoy them both. It was incredibly exciting to see INFERNAL AFFAIRS in its theatrical run knowing nothing about it, or much of Hong Kong cinema in general. It was so refreshing to be completely in the dark as to who could be perceived to be the hero or villain of the piece. THE DEPARTED removes a little of that grey area, or at least by casting two major celebrities in the lead roles, allows the viewer to root for which one they like most. I like the sleekness of INFERNAL AFFAIRS, but for adding an entire hour to the running time, I think that Scorsese filled THE DEPARTED with a lot of extra character, even if it's a much broader piece. But I also like all of the over the top performances in that film. It was probably the last time Jack Nicholson really got to play with a role and have some fun chewing the scenery. It's still a subtler performance than we might have gotten out of Pacino in the same part. And no, THE DEPARTED doesn't come close to matching the brilliance of Scorsese's earlier films, but it wasn't competing for an Oscar against RAGING BULL or TAXI DRIVER. It's not going to go down in history of one of the greatest films of his or any other career, but I think that's true for most of the films to win Best Picture in the last decade or more. There aren't many films that have won Best Picture since that I like considerably more than THE DEPARTED. The fact that it won the Oscar for Best Picture should be reward enough, allowing THE DEPARTED to be granted entry into its own exclusive club. As for The Canon, I say we give it to the film that started from an original source. As remakes go, THE DEPARTED is not bad, but INFERNAL AFFAIRS was such an original achievement and helped introduce a new world of international films to people in this country unfamiliar with that region, so for that alone, I would vote YES to INFERNAL AFFAIRS.

#17 jjulius

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 01:38 PM

Infernal Affairs.

It's never a good sign when a remake adds fifty minutes. You already have a perfectly good story, beginning, middle and end, and then you're adding more to it? That's like the opposite of how a writing process should work! It's reverse editing. It's stretching out a tight jumper. The Departed is fine, but a bit of a waste of time.

#18 sycasey 2.0

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 02:29 PM

I'm wondering if there is anyone who voted for the movie they saw second? In other words, you saw Infernal Affairs before you saw The Departed, but voted for the latter anyway? Or vice versa?

I'm thinking these movies might be pretty evenly matched, but people have a natural bias for the version of the story they saw first.

#19 bleary

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 04:24 PM

View Postsycasey 2.0, on 19 May 2018 - 02:29 PM, said:

I'm wondering if there is anyone who voted for the movie they saw second? In other words, you saw Infernal Affairs before you saw The Departed, but voted for the latter anyway? Or vice versa?

I'm thinking these movies might be pretty evenly matched, but people have a natural bias for the version of the story they saw first.


I saw Departed first and voted for Infernal Affairs.