Chinese Film the 2002 Film Infernal Affairs Term Paper

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Chinese Film

The 2002 film Infernal Affairs, which follows the interwoven tale of Chan and Lau, an undercover police officer and a triad mole, respectively, is notable for its use of violence, which is brutal but never gratuitous. In this sense, Infernal Affairs owes much of its tone and narrative aesthetic to the action and thriller films to come out of Hong Kong in the 1980s, but it also succeeds in transcending these origins by minimizing any sense of melodrama and confounding viewer expectations. The film's particular portrayal of violence contributes to this confounding of expectations because it portrays death as an intimate, final affair, so that while the film lacks the extreme body count of many action and thriller films, the deaths it does include resonate with extra meaning due to the way they are portrayed. By examining the deaths of both Wong and Chan in detail, one is able to appreciate how Infernal Affairs uses violence and death as a means of forcing its audience to confront its expectations and assumptions regarding violence in action films, and particularly the audience's complicity in this violence.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Chinese Film the 2002 Film Infernal Affairs, Assignment

Before examining Infernal Affairs in greater detail, it will be useful to provide a brief background of Hong Kong action films in general, in order to better demonstrate what makes Infernal Affairs so notable. While Hong Kong has a relatively long history of action films, it was not until the 1980s that Hong Kong action cinema transitioned from the kind of straight martial arts films made famous by the Shaw Brothers into action movies that, while frequently featuring martial arts, found their (Zhang, 2004, p. 252). The filmmaker who arguably contributed most to this transition, at least in terms of setting the aesthetic and narrative trajectory that would result in Infernal Affairs, was John Woo, whose "gangster films depict a 'romantic hero' who doesn't fit the conventional definition of good or evil" (Zhang, 2004, p. 252). Woo would eventually gain worldwide fame from his English-language films in the 1990s, and in many ways, his signature style of elegantly choreographed gunfights showed that action films could transcend the usual limitations of the genre.

Woo's signature style is actually nowhere to be seen in Infernal Affairs, but this visual divergence actual reinforces the connection between Infernal Affairs and the Hong Kong action films of the 1980s. Though Infernal Affairs contains none of the slow-motion, dance-like gunfights popularized by Woo, the idea of a hero "who doesn't fit the conventional definition of good or evil" is integral to the film, especially because this hero is essentially split into the characters of Lau and Chan, who must come to grips with the dueling elements of their identities. Perhaps more importantly, though the actual aesthetic of violence in Infernal Affairs is markedly different from Woo's signature style, the use of violence as a thematic and narrative tool, rather than simple dramatic punctuation, creates a kind of artistic continuity between Woo's films of the 1980s and Infernal Affairs that owes more to the specific history of Hong Kong action films than any other trend in film-making (Khoo, 2009, p. 559). What makes Infernal Affairs so notable, then, is the way it is able to use violence as a crucial element of its storytelling without attempting to aestheticize that violence; put another way, while John Woo demonstrated how violence can function as a thematic and narrative tool by turning it into a kind of visual art, Infernal Affairs continues to demonstrate the artistic utility of violence precisely by downplaying its potential for visual flair.

The violence in Infernal Affairs is straightforward and blunt, but rather than shock the audience in the manner of a horror film, this violence is not gratuitous or overbearing. Rather, its bluntness serves as a means of confronting the reality of violence and death by highlighting its almost inexorable finality; violent death in Infernal Affairs is not so much dramatic as it is pragmatic, and what drama and emotional weight the film instills in its deaths function only as a kind of implicit critique of the senseless violence that is a constituent element of most action films. The film plays on its audience's emotional attachment to certain characters in order to confront the audience with its apparent disregard for the violence inflicted on countless others. Two scenes in particular demonstrate this tendency, and somewhat tellingly, they occur in the same location.

The first crucial scene concerns the death of Wong, the police superintendent and the only remaining character who is aware of Chan's true identity as an undercover police officer. Chan and Wong are meeting on a rooftop, and after learning that members of the triad are on their way in an attempt to uncover the mole, Wong allows Chan to escape while he waylays the triads. They recognize Wong as he enters an elevator, and the scene cuts just as the triads attack. The audience is left unaware of Wong's fate until Chan returns to the front of the building (having taken a cab around so as to appear as if he has just arrived). As he is about to enter the building, Wong's body crashes onto the roof of the cab. Stunned, Chan comes face-to-face with Wong's body, until he is grabbed by a triad member. A shootout ensues in which a number of triads are shot, while Chan escapes in a car.

Wong's death is first of all a shock because he is arguably the only unequivocally likeable character in the entire film; though the audience undoubtedly identifies with both Chan and Lau, Wong plays a kind of idealized father figure to both, and, because the film is so concerned with doubles, this idealization is contrasted with Hon Sam, the triad boss (Covey, 2011, p. 556). Furthermore, the moment Wong's body drops onto the cab, the film immediately breaks the tension which had been building over the course of the previous shots. Mimicking Chan's stunned disbelief, the film flashes back to previous scenes of Wong talking to both Chan and Lau while sad music plays. Where deaths in action movies frequently occur with little regard, as bodies drop left and right, this scene forces the viewer to consider the finality of death by breaking up the narrative flow of the film.

This effect is heightened by the fact that immediately afterward, a gunfight breaks out, but it does so in a chaotic and almost arbitrary fashion. The film contrasts its slow, careful consideration of Wong's death against the sloppy, almost meaningless deaths of the characters immediately afterward. The seemingly meaningless nature of the triad members' deaths in the shootout is highlighted by a brief moment in the battle's aftermath, when a police officer nudges a body with his foot. The body has been reduced to a mere slab of meat, something to be kicked, and this small action reveals something essential about the film's treatment of death. Wong's death is imbued with some extra emotional impact due to the centrality of his character and emotional manipulation the film performs with its flashbacks and music, but this impact is almost immediately undercut by the subsequent shootout. In doing so, the film almost seems to implicate the action-film audience in Wong's death, because its callous reception of on-screen violence is what allows, and in fact demands, the death of cherished characters. This point will become even clearer when considering the scene of Chan's death, because the film essentially blends the narrative and thematic arguments of the aforementioned deaths into a single, definitive moment.

The effect of Wong's "meaningful" death coupled with the arbitrary, meaningless death of the triad members is mimicked during the scene of Chan's death, but in the latter case, these two representations are actually combined. As Chan is leading Lau out of an elevator at gunpoint (in the same building that Wong was thrown off of), Inspector B (who is subsequently revealed to be another triad mole) shoots him in the head. At first, the shot is only heard, as the screen cuts to black. Lau turns around, stunned, and the film briefly fades from color to black and white (the same effect used in the flashbacks of Wong), before flashing back a few seconds to show Chan's death in detail. The viewer sees the bullet exit Chan's head, before the film cuts to his front, where the bullet hole is visible as he slumps to the floor of the elevator and the film once again fades to black and white. Then, in color, Lau and Inspector B. look down at Chan's lifeless body as the elevator doors attempt to close, banging on his splayed legs.

The scene of Chan's death essentially makes the same aesthetic and narrative movements as that of Wong's death, but it does so in a compressed fashion, moving rapidly between "meaningful" black and white and the blunt, meaninglessness of violent death. Where previously the audience was given at least a few moments to reflect on Wong's death, here… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Chinese Film the 2002 Film Infernal Affairs.  (2012, June 7).  Retrieved July 2, 2020, from

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"Chinese Film the 2002 Film Infernal Affairs."  7 June 2012.  Web.  2 July 2020. <>.

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"Chinese Film the 2002 Film Infernal Affairs."  June 7, 2012.  Accessed July 2, 2020.