Infernal Affairs

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Infernal Affairs
Theatrical release poster
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Directed by
Written by
Produced byAndrew Lau
Edited by
Music byChan Kwong-wing
Distributed byMedia Asia Distribution
Release date
  • 12 December 2002 (2002-12-12)
Running time
101 minutes
CountryHong Kong
BudgetUS$6.4 million[1]
Box officeHK$55.1 million
Infernal Affairs
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaning"Unceasing Path"

Infernal Affairs is a 2002 Hong Kong action thriller film[2] co-directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. Jointly written by Mak and Felix Chong, it stars Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Sammi Cheng and Kelly Chen. The film follows an undercover Hong Kong Police Force officer who infiltrates a Triad, and another officer who is secretly a spy for the same Triad. It is the first in the Infernal Affairs series and is followed by Infernal Affairs II and Infernal Affairs III.

The film was selected as the Hong Kong entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 76th Academy Awards but was not nominated. Miramax Films acquired the United States distribution rights and gave it a limited US theatrical release in 2004. Martin Scorsese remade the film in 2006 as The Departed, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture as well as Academy Award for Best Director, Scorsese's first and only Oscar in his career, and Best Adapted Screenplay.[citation needed]

A 4K remaster of the Infernal Affairs trilogy was released on 12 December 2022, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Infernal Affairs.[citation needed]


Hon Sam, a Hong Kong Triad boss, sends Lau Kin-ming, a young gangster, to the police academy to serve as his spy in the Hong Kong Police Force. Around the same time, Chan Wing-Yan, a young police cadet, is seemingly expelled from the police academy. In reality, Chan has secretly become an undercover cop, reporting only to Superintendent Wong Chi-shing, who sends him to infiltrate Hon's triad. Over the course of ten years, Chan experiences great stress from his undercover work while Lau quickly rises through the ranks in the police force, eventually becoming a Senior Inspector. Wong and his team interrupt a deal between Hon and a group of Thai cocaine dealers after receiving a tip from Chan. However, Lau alerts Hon, giving him enough time to get his henchmen to dispose of the evidence.

After this incident, both Wong and Hon realize that they have a spy within their own organizations, placing them in a race against time to find out who the spy is. Chan nearly finds out Lau's identity when he tries to follow Lau after seeing him talking to Hon in a cinema; Lau manages to get away before Chan could see his face. By this time, both Chan and Lau are struggling with their double identities – Chan starts losing faith in himself as a cop after being a gangster for ten years; Lau becomes more accustomed to the life of a police officer and wants to end his association with the triad. At their next meeting on a rooftop, Wong wants to pull Chan out of undercover work for fear of his safety.

However, Hon, who knows about the meeting from Lau, sends "Crazy" Keung and other henchmen to confront them. Chan escapes from the building while Wong tries to distract the gangsters and ends up being thrown off the roof to his death. Just then, the police show up and a shootout ensues. Keung, not knowing that Chan is the spy, drives them away from the scene but dies from a gunshot wound later. When the news report that Keung was actually another undercover cop, Hon assumes that he was the spy and that Chan killed him to protect himself. Lau retrieves Wong's cell phone and contacts Chan; both of them agree to foil a drug deal by Hon. The plan succeeds and many of Hon's men are arrested, while Lau betrays and kills Hon.

Everything seems to have returned to normal – Chan can revert to his true identity as a cop, while Lau has erased his criminal connections by eliminating the triad. However, back at the police headquarters, Chan discovers that Lau was the spy and leaves immediately. Realising what has happened, Lau erases Chan's file from the police database and makes a copy on his personal computer, intending to use the proof of Chan's identity as leverage, so that he would not reveal his real identity. Chan sends to Lau a compact disc with a recording that Hon kept between himself and Lau. The disc inadvertently ends up in the hands of Lau's girlfriend, Mary. Chan and Lau meet on the same rooftop where Wong was killed earlier. Chan disarms Lau and holds his pistol to Lau's head; Lau states calmly that he "wants to be a good person" now, but Chan rejects Lau's plea to help him conceal his criminal past.

Inspector "Big B" arrives on the scene shortly and orders Chan to release Lau. Chan holds Lau as a hostage at gunpoint and backs into an elevator, but gets shot in the head by "Big B" when he moves his head from behind Lau. "Big B" then reveals to Lau that he is also a spy planted by Hon in the police force, and assures Lau that he has destroyed evidence of Lau's criminal associations. When they take the elevator to the ground floor, Lau kills "Big B". Lee discovers records that prove Chan's identity as an undercover cop, while "Big B" is identified as the spy in the police force and the case is closed. Lau salutes Chan at his funeral, with Cheung and Lee present as well. A flashback reaffirms the point that Lau wished he had taken a different route in life.


Alternate ending[edit]

An alternate ending for the film was shot in order to comply with Article 25 (7) of the Chinese Film Administration Regulations specifying that films cannot propagate obscenity, gambling or violence, or abet to commit crimes.[3] In the original (Hong Kong) ending, Lau concealed his true identity as a Triad spy and identified himself as a police officer to avoid legislative punishment. Therefore, the original ending was deemed to promote criminal activity and injustice, and an alternate ending was filmed to make the film suitable for mainland China. In the alternate ending, inspector Cheung discovers evidence of Lau's criminal activity and immediately arrests Lau outside the elevator. This alternate ending was shown in mainland China and Malaysia.[4]


Postcolonial identity crisis in Hong Kong[edit]

In Infernal Affairs, the identity crisis suffered by both Chan and Lau as a mole is hinting at the struggle of Hong Kong residents, who faced both the colonization by the British and the reunification with Mainland China. Specifically, under Deng Xiaoping’s "One Country, Two System policy", the duplicity, unsettling, and uncertain nature of the future of Hong Kong residents is tightly echoed in Chan and Lau's character developments. Scholar Howard Y. F. Choy further claimed that "this postcolonial (re)turn is actually more a recolonization than a decolonization of the capitalist Cantonese city by the mainland Mandarin master."[4]

Quotes from Buddha[edit]

Infernal Affairs opens with Buddhist classic Nirvana Sutra Verse Nineteen, stating that "The worst of the Eight Hells is called Continuous Hell. It has the meaning of Continuous Suffering. Thus the name." The film also closes with another quote from Buddha, stating that "He who is in Continuous Hell never dies. Longevity is a big hardship in Continuous Hell." In Buddhism, Continuous Hell is also termed The Avici, where one can never reincarnate nor be relieved from guilt and suffering. This concept of timeless, placeless, and endless suffering especially applies to the character Lau throughout the trilogy, who infinitely bears the burden of self-betrayal (serves as a mole), loss of family and friendship, and unsettledness.[4]


Box office[edit]

Upon its premiere in Hong Kong, Infernal Affairs grossed $160,356 during the opening day (16–19 January). In total, the film grossed $7,035,649 during its run in Hong Kong theatres.[5] The film was then released across Asia, where it grossed a further $169,659 from theatre receipts. In 2016, South Korean theaters re-released the film, which went on to gross $128,026 across three weeks. The total lifetime gross of the film in Korea is $977,903.[6]

In total, worldwide, the film grossed $8,836,958 across release in both domestic markets and European theatres which displayed the film.

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, Infernal Affairs has an approval rating of 94% based on reviews from 64 critics, with an average rating of 7.50/10. The consensus from the site reads as "Smart and engrossing, this is one of Hong Kong's better cop thrillers."[7] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 75 out of 100 based on reviews from 19 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". It was ranked as the 62nd Best Movie of 2004, 86th Most Discussed Movie of 2004, and the 95th Most Shared Movie of 2004.[8]

Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a three-out-of-four star rating and described Infernal Affairs as offering "rare emotional depth." In his words, "The movie pays off in a kind of emotional complexity rarely seen in crime movies. I cannot reveal what happens but will urge you to consider the thoughts of two men who finally confront their own real identities—in the person of the other character."[9] New York Times reviewer Elvis Mitchell was so enraptured with the film that he stated that "Infernal Affairs is so beautifully shot that the images occasionally distract you from the condensed policier plot."[10]


Infernal Affairs played an integral role in Andrew Lau's breakout films in entering the 21st century. Being the most critically acclaimed film of his to date, it was ranked No. 30 in Empire Magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010.[citation needed]

Infernal Affairs gained significant traction during its festival run as it was nominated for sixteen awards during the 22nd Hong Kong Film Awards, winning seven of those categories. It also won the Best Picture at the 40th Golden Horse Awards, the 8th Golden Bauhinia Awards, and the Best Foreign Language Film at the 46th Blue Ribbon Awards.

Eventually, Infernal Affairs would spark the creation of two more films. With Infernal Affairs II getting 11 nominations and Infernal Affairs III getting 7 nominations during the 23rd Hong Kong Film Awards, with Infernal Affairs II winning Best Original Film Song.

Awards and nominations[edit]

List of Accolades
Award / Film Festival Category Recipient(s) Result
Udine Far East Film Festival Audience Award Andrew Lau
Alan Mak
Asia Pacific Film Festival Best Sound Kinson Tsang Won
46th Blue Ribbon Awards Best Foreign Language Film Andrew Lau
Alan Mak
Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics Grand Prix Nominated
40th Golden Horse Awards Best Picture Won
Best Director Andrew Lau
Alan Mak
Best Actor Tony Leung Won
Best Supporting Actor Anthony Wong Won
Best Sound Effects Kinson Tsang King-Cheung Won
Viewer's Choice Award Won
Best Actor Andy Lau Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Alan Mak
Felix Chong
Best Film Editing Danny Pang
Pang Ching-Hei
Best Cinematography Andrew Lau
Lai Yiu-Fai
Best Art Direction Choo Sung Pong
Wong Ching-Ching
Best Action Choreography Dion Lam Dik-On Nominated
Best Visual Effects Christopher Doyle Nominated
8th Golden Bauhinia Awards Best Picture Won
Best Director Andrew Lau
Alan Mak
Best Actor Tony Leung Won
Best Actor Andy Lau Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Anthony Wong Won
Best Original Screenplay Alan Mak
Felix Chong
9th Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards Film of Merit Won
Best Actor Anthony Wong Won
22nd Hong Kong Film Awards Best Film Won
Best Director Andrew Lau
Alan Mak
Best Screenplay Alan Mak
Felix Chong
Best Actor Tony Leung Won
Best Actor Andy Lau Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Anthony Wong Won
Best Supporting Actor Eric Tsang Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Chapman To Nominated
Best Cinematography Andrew Lau
Lai Yiu-Fai
Best Film Editing Danny Pang
Pang Ching Hei
Best Costume Design Lee Pik-Kwan Nominated
Best Action Choreography Dion Lam Nominated
Best Original Film Score Chan Kwong Wing Nominated
Best Original Film Song Song: "Infernal Affairs"

Composer: Ronald Ng
Lyrics: Albert Leung
Sung by: Tony Leung, Andy Lau

Best Sound Design Kinson Tsang King-Cheung Nominated
Best Visual Effects Christopher Doyle Nominated


The original film score for Infernal Affairs was written and performed by Chan Kwong-wing.

Track listing
1."Entering The Inferno"Chan Kwong-wing2:06
2."If I Were Him"Chan Kwong-wing1:36
3."Goodbye Master"Chan Kwong-wing2:18
4."Who Are You?"Chan Kwong-wing2:44
5."Let Me Quit"Chan Kwong-wing1:32
6."I Dreamt About You"Chan Kwong-wing1:23
7."Salute"Chan Kwong-wing1:56
8."Mission Abort"Chan Kwong-wing4:31
9."I Am A Cop!"Chan Kwong-wing3:26
10."You Are The Only One"Chan Kwong-wing1:06
11."I Want To Be A Good Guy"Chan Kwong-wing3:30
12."Goodbye Master, Goodbye"Chan Kwong-wing1:56
13."The Inferno"Chan Kwong-wing1:51

The theme song, Infernal Affairs (無間道), was composed by Ronald Ng, lyrics provided by Albert Leung, and performed in Cantonese and Mandarin by Andy Lau and Tony Leung.

Although not included in the soundtrack, Tsai Chin's (蔡琴) song "Forgotten Times" (《被遺忘的時光》) features prominently in this film as a recurring element of its storyline, and also in its sequels.



Writer Alan Mak had long wanted to write a story about police and gangsters. The script of Infernal Affairs was inspired by John Woo's Face/Off (1997) but Mak knew that faces cannot swap in the real world. Instead, he focused on the exchange of identity and psychology between the two leads[11] and delved into human nature and the human heart. In the process of Mak's creation, his good friend Felix Chong also encouraged and supported him. The script, written by Mak and revised by Chong, took three years to complete.[12]

The dialogue in the famous rooftop showdown was created on the spot by Felix Chong and Tony Leung, with Chong playing Andy Lau's part. The script originally included a typical shootout in the third act, but Leung insisted on turning it into a dialogue scene.

Gordon Lam did not receive the full script and did not know his character was also a triad mole until the final scene.[11][13]


The script for Infernal Affairs originally belonged to Andy Lau's Teamwork Motion Pictures, but entangled amidst a lawsuit, the company was unable to produce the film.[14] In addition, the creative team could not find investors because other studios at the time thought that an undercover film wasn't novel enough to make money. Eventually, Andrew Lau made a hopeless bid and showed the script to John Chong at Media Asia Entertainment Group. To his surprise Chong and company chairman Peter Lam saw potential in the story. Lam proceeded to invest HK $20 million in the film, under the condition that Andy Lau will star the film.


With star power, visual allure, and an engaging script, Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs /《無間道》(2002) did very well critically and financially, spawned two sequels and a television series, and attracted the attention of Hollywood.[15] In 2003, Brad Pitt's production company Plan B Entertainment acquired the rights for a Hollywood remake, named The Departed, which was directed by Martin Scorsese, written by William Monahan, starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, and Alec Baldwin, set in Boston, Massachusetts, and roughly based on the life of famed Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger. The Departed was released on 6 October 2006 by Warner Bros. Pictures and won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay for Monahan, and Best Director for Scorsese. Andrew Lau, the co-director of Infernal Affairs, who was interviewed by Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, said: "Of course I think the version I made is better, but the Hollywood version is pretty good too. [Scorsese] made the Hollywood version more attuned to American culture." Andy Lau,[16] one of the main actors in Infernal Affairs, when asked how the movie compares to the original, said: "The Departed was too long and it felt as if Hollywood had combined all three Infernal Affairs movies together."[17] Lau pointed out that the remake featured some of the "golden quotes" of the original but did have much more swearing. He ultimately rated The Departed 8/10 and said that the Hollywood remake is worth a view, though according to Lau's spokeswoman Alice Tam, he felt that the combination of the two female characters into one in The Departed was not as good as the original storyline.[18]

Lau, Tsang, and Jacky Cheung parodied the cinema scene to promote the Hong Kong Film Awards. Lau and Tsang, in their respective characters, go through the scene where they meet to gather info on the undercover cop amongst Hon Sam's gang. Lau Kin-ming asks Hon, "Why do we always meet in a cinema?", to which Hon answers, "It's quiet. No one comes to movies". Cheung comes out from the shadows behind them and says, "I don't know...quite a few people watch movies" and we see a slew of Hong Kong celebrities watching various clips of Hong Kong films on the screen. Originally Tony Leung was going to appear but scheduling conflicts led to the recasting.

The 2003 TVB spoof celebrating the Chinese New Year called Mo Ba To (吐氣羊眉賀新春之無霸道), the 2004 comedy film Love Is a Many Stupid Thing by Wong Jing, and the 2004 TVB television drama Shades of Truth were re-writings based on the plot of the film.

In Taiwan SHODA (劉裕銘) and a secondary school student Blanka (布蘭卡) cut and rearranged the original film and inserted new sound tracks to produce their videos Infernal Affairs CD pro2 and Infernal Affairs iPod on the web. The videos had many views and both producers removed their videos after receiving cease and desist letters from the Group Power Workshop Limited (群體工作室), the Taiwan distributor of the film.[19]

Media Asia released a limited edition of eight-DVD set of the Infernal Affairs trilogy in an Ultimate Collectible Boxset (無間道終極珍藏DVD系列(8DVD套裝)) on 20 December 2004. Features included an online game and two Chinese novelisations of the film series by Lee Muk-Tung (李牧童), titled 無間道I+II小說 and 無間道III終極無間小說.

The hi-fi shop scene was later recreated with additions of excerpts of the film to encourage businesses to join the Quality Tourism Services Scheme in Hong Kong.[20]

In 2009, a Korean remake City of Damnation, which was directed by Kim Dong-won was released on 22 January 2009. In 2009, a Telugu remake Homam, which directed and acted by JD Chakravarthy along with Jagapathi Babu was released and became a notable movie.[21][22] In 2012, Double Face (ダブルフェイス), a Japanese television remake starring Hidetoshi Nishijima was released by TBS and WOWOW.[23] The production aired in two parts: "Police Impersonation" on WOWOW and "Undercover" on TBS.

A TV series remake debuted in 2018 produced by Media Asia and former TVB producer Tommy Leung. The series, which is titled Infernal Affairs like the film, stars Gallen Lo, Damian Lau, Paul Chun, Lo Hoi-pang, Eric Tsang, Derek Kok, Dominic Lam, Toby Leung and Yuen Biao.[24] The story takes place years after the films' events, with some minor characters reprising their roles alongside a new cast. The TV series uses the same concept as the film, but with an entirely new story and characters, and the setting expanded beyond Hong Kong to include Thailand and Shenzhen. It stretched through three seasons with each season consisting of 12 episodes.[25]

Hindi remake is going to be a joint development between Warner Bros. India and Mumbai – based banner Azure and is set for a remake for a two-picture deal[26]

The success of the film inspired many genres, including an open-world video game from United Front Games titled Sleeping Dogs (or True Crime: Hong Kong before canceled by Activision Blizzard in 2011),[27] with the protagonist of the story infiltrating the criminal underworld as an undercover police.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Infernal Affairs vs. The Departed". Archived from the original on 26 August 2017. Retrieved 29 November 2015.
  2. ^ "Infernal Affairs". British Board of Film Classification.
  3. ^ S. Xu (2017) "The Curious Case of Chinese Film Censorship: an Analysis of the Film Administration Regulations". School of Journalism and Communication and the Graduate School of the University of Oregon. 32-44.
  4. ^ a b c H. Y. F. Choy (2007) "Schizophrenic Hong Kong: Postcolonial Identity Crisis in the Infernal Affairs Trilogy". Transtext(e)s Transcultures. 3: 52–66.
  5. ^ "Infernal Affairs (2004) – Infernal Affairs (2004) – Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  6. ^ "Infernal Affairs (2004) – Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  7. ^ "Infernal Affairs". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on 2 November 2021. Retrieved 27 March 2022.
  8. ^ "Infernal Affairs Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 27 March 2022.
  9. ^ "Infernal Affairs Review". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 10 June 2021.
  10. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (24 September 2004). "Infernal Affairs Review". New York Times. Retrieved 10 June 2021.
  11. ^ a b "《无间道》借鉴于吴宇森的《变脸》". Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  12. ^ "《无间道》之父麦兆辉:这剧本我写了3年,找了很多人都不愿意拍_腾讯新闻". Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  13. ^ "刘德华谈《无间道》:我不知道全部剧本,林家栋以为自己是警察!". Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  14. ^ "《无间道》背后的故事,现在的刘德华有多红,当时的他就有多艰难_电影". Retrieved 27 December 2021.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ Marchetti, Gina (2010). "Chapter 9: Departing from The Departed: The Infernal Affairs Trilogy". In Louie, Kam (ed.). Hong Kong Culture: Word and Image. Hong Kong University Press. pp. 147–169. ISBN 978-988-220-613-7. JSTOR j.ctt1xcrv0.
  16. ^ "My Infernal Affairs is better than Scorsese's says Lau". The Guardian. London. 10 October 2006. Retrieved 10 October 2006.
  17. ^ "Andy Lau comments on The Departed (Chinese)". 6 October 2006. Archived from the original on 16 December 2006. Retrieved 6 October 2006.
  18. ^ "Andy Lau Gives 'Departed' an 8 Out of 10". 7 October 2006. Archived from the original on 16 December 2006. Retrieved 7 October 2006.
  19. ^ 陳俍任:電影「無間道」搞怪版始作俑者「CD-PRO2版」作者,接獲在台發行商的警告信,《聯合報》。2004-06-06
  20. ^ "DiscoverHongKong – Interactive Gallery – Video Clips – Index". Archived from the original on 28 July 2008. Retrieved 5 July 2009.
  21. ^ "Hong Kong Classic Infernal Affairs Set For an Indian Remake". News18. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  22. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (25 September 2017). "Warner Bros India Preps 'Infernal Affairs' Remake With Azure Entertainment". Deadline. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  23. ^ ダブルフェイス・イントロダクション (TBS Introduction to Double Face). Retrieved 20 September 2012. (in Japanese)
  24. ^ "4 Reasons to Watch Internal Affairs (TV Series) | StarHub Singapore". Archived from the original on 5 October 2022. Retrieved 8 October 2018.
  25. ^ Loong, Wai Ting (2017). "TV version of Infernal Affairs". Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  26. ^ Bhushan, Nyay (2017). "Hong Kong Cult Movie 'Infernal Affairs' to Get Indian Remake". Retrieved 12 June 2021.
  27. ^ Sleeping Dogs, by United Front Games – The New York Times

External links[edit]