Sunday, October 08, 2006
the departed

So I went out with the girl today and I saw "The Departed", the Martin Scorcese remake of one favorite Asian films in recent years, Infernal Affairs. I remember being quite happy to buy myself a copy of it when I was in Hong Kong back in '04.

Being a big fan of Scorcese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino... freak'n classics! It's a crime he hasn't won an Oscar), I found myself being both simultaneously interested to see how he would interpret Infernal Affairs, and at the same time, dreading the possibility that the Hollywood machine might have somehow totally screwed up the project. Thankfully, it's a great flick which borrows heavily from the original movie in terms of characters, major plot events, and even mood - the tension from Infernal Affairs Hong Kong streets with its cops & triads has been pretty successfully transferred to the working class Irish neighborhoods of South Boston, with its own cops and mobsters.


In terms of casting, while Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio give fairly competent performances as the leads, they still can't even begin to compare to the mastery showed by Tony Leung and Andy Lau in Infernal Affairs, whose performances in the original were much more nuanced and multi-dimensional. Leung and Lau managed to juggle all the strange faucets of their characters, mixing a perfect balance of confidence & fear, with cool-ness & vulnerability. In contrast, Damon's gangster-mole-turned-cop, Colin Sullivan, tends to come off sometimes as too whiney and rat-boyish, while DiCaprio's police-informant-turned-gangster, William Costigan, sometimes sulks too much and throws tantrums that make you wish that he really was on the Titanic when it sunk.

The real scene stealer in The Departed is Nicholson's portrayal of Irish mob boss Frank Costello (some other reviewers have noted the same). Nicholson's character is cunning, paranoid, and most of all, psychotically vicious in a way that is Goodfellas/Casino-type, Pesci-esque.

An additional highlight is that the two female love interests in Infernal Affairs (arguably the weakest and least developed characters) have been combined into a single, major female character in The Departed - Vera Farmiga gives an interested performance as a state employed shrink who sees Costigan as a patient while dating Sullivan when she's off work. Love triangles are an expected film cliche, but Farmiga does a great job of portraying a woman whom the audience can believe genuinely cares for both Sullivan AND Costigan.


Though I enjoyed The Departed, my one single beef with the movie is an oddly placed scene in the middle of the film, where Costello's gang makes a deal to sell military technology microprocessors to agents from the Chinese government backed by Chinese gangsters. Maybe the screenplay writer or whoever conceptualized this scene might have thought they were paying homage to Infernal Affairs, but the entire scene was filled with caricatures of Asian characters and Nicholson's Costello hurling racist insults such as "Tell those chinks, 'No tiki, no laundry'" and "Bringing automatic weapons doesn't add inches to your d*ck size".

A short list of issues I have with the scene:

  • Plausibility. Costello's gang's turf is South Boston, and deals primarily in exhortion, illegal gambling, and drugs... now all of a sudden, they've found a way to steal high-tech, military grade, computer equipment?! Doesn't add up.

  • Atmosphere. In the original Infernal Affairs, the "big deal" that went down was a drug deal between the triads and gangsters from Thailand. Both sides seemed to have a cordial relationship, which didn't affect at all the tension of the scene (which focused on the two moles racing to try and tip off each man's respective side). In The Departed, the scene feels flat, despite Nicholson's Costello's swagger and hostility. The opposing gangboss also rants and screams (in choppy Cantonese), but his character comes off as annoying rather than threatening.

  • Language. The Chinese spoken in this scene is Cantonese, and somehow, "the secret Chinese government agent" is completely incapable of speaking English. Besides the fact that Mandarin would seem to more logically be the correct dialect spoken by the agent, I find it wholly unbelievable that a Chinese government agent who can't speak English would be sent to infiltrate the US to illegally buy military technology.

    Costello has what appears to be a tough guy, Chinese American interpreter for this scene, but I have to wonder why the idiot doesn't slap Costello everytime Costello has the gall to spit out the word "chink" the way he does (I can already hear the blog voice of ms. maloy chiming in about the pathetic-ness of Chinese Americans... doh!)

  • Red Scare, '06. Everyone's afraid of big, evil, China... oh no! The scene seems slapped into the movie to make some sort of statement about the PRC, but really, it goes back to the issue of plausibility - I honestly don't think the Chinese government is dumb enough to shop for military tech in a poor South Boston neighborhood, buying it from a gang that is neither very large or extremely powerful.

The whole scene is probably the worst in the movie, and I'm not the only one who thinks so... AngryAsianMan also mentions these various problems. It doesn't break the film, but it's definitely a flaw that mars an otherwise really enjoyable film.

So in conclusion: Go watch Infernal Affairs first, and then go see The Departed. You'll appreciate both movies all the more.


end note

Supposedly Scorcese wants to make a film based on the plot of the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo (an excellent book that I just read for the first time last year ). In the story of the book, a Jesuit priest travels to feudal Japan, and there, his faith is tested in ways that he never thought possible by a government that has completely outlawed foreign religions.

It'll be interesting to see how Scorcese handles that project... hopefully it won't turn out like the last overtly religious movie he made.


That scene does indeed seem rather ridiculous, and from everything else I've read it just seems so out of place .. thanks for the warning before I finally get to see this one later today
infernal affairs was definitely a standout in the hk films. fab cinematography too. -f
reel fanatic - thx!

f- go take a hot date and go see it! ;)
I wonder if Nicholson would appreciate being compared with Joe Pesci?
yo, what didn't you like about the last temptation of Christ?

just wanted to say thats a great book. dunno if the movie can live up to the book but i hope so. his short stories are good too.

i can't believe i took a long lunch to watch this movie.

they swear a lot, it made me giggle. and they used the c-word so much i stopped squirming in my seat by the end of it.

i thought leo was kinda hot :( gah!

i totally didn't notice the thai gangsters except when marky mark said something about a guy with a 12 year old boy in thailand...represent!
"in this this country" a political preview of what is to come after our death.
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in?scrip?tion (n-skrip-shun)n.
1. The act or an instance of inscribing.
2. Something, such as the wording on a coin, medal, monument, or seal, that is inscribed.
3. A short, signed message in a book or on a photograph given as a gift.
4. The usually informal dedication of an artistic work.
5. Jeremiah 31:33

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