I finally rented The Departed. I didn’t feel a pressing need to watch because I had already seen the original, Infernal Affairs, and I had heard from various friends that the remake did not differ all that much. There were one or two who had said it differed quite a bit, but after seeing it, I conclude that they must have been asleep. The two are so very, very similar. Sure, The Departed takes place in Boston instead of Hong Kong, the pacing and timing are different, and we’re dealing with Irish-Americans instead of Cantonese, but superficial differences aside, almost every major plot point had an analogous scene in Infernal Affairs. Yeah, that G35 really is almost the same as a 350Z.
Speaking of remake, back when The Departed first came out, and IA was getting no acknowledgment, including from wiki, I recall Scorsese claiming he had no idea. I inclined to believe him, because I felt a man of his caliber may have declined to do a remake. So I let my imagination run wild, thinking maybe he felt he had the wool pulled over his eyes. But in the first few minutes of the opening credits, we see MEDIA ASIA FILMS. If I were some dude working on an American film, I’d be wondering, “Who the fuck are these guys?” So now I’m not so enamored with my conspiracy theory. But I don’t really think it takes away from his victory. He ultimately acknowledged IA during the Academy Awards.
I don’t usually include spoilers in my reviews, but I’m going to make an exception, so if you haven’t seen either movie, bottom line: The two movies are very good, and very similar, but I’m going to lean my favor towards the original just a bit. Continue reading to see why at your risk.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Infernal Affairs, but I recall there being one major gripe I had with it. Other than that, I came away quite amazed, probably the same way people felt after coming out of The Departed for the first time. I don’t recall what that gripe was anymore, but it had something to do with the Good Mole’s first meeting with the Bad Mole in the police station towards the end. So I was looking forward to seeing Scorsese eliminate that aberration, and he did…kind of. He (and when I say he, I mean, the American team) changed the ending and various minute overarching plot lines that took away from the original.
In IA, Bad Mole feels doubt about his role in life. He wants to be good. He’s Darth Vader who likes the idea of Luke and what he has, but is still selfish, so he’ll cut some corners to get there and protect himself, if necessary. There’s not really any of that at all in The Departed. I felt that took an extra dimension away from Matt Damon’s character. In fact, I could argue it screws up his character. He’s ruthless, yet he’s not. His girlfriend finds out about him, but he shows an oddly compassionate response, like a modern understanding husband who is in touch with his feelings. “Baby, it’s just business!” Her response is almost as odd. She just found out the man she’s been seeing is a mobster, and she gives him the silent treatment. Both seemed more befitting of Desperate Housewives. Now that I think about it, her pregnancy seems conveniently slipped in. Then a few scenes later, he blows away a fellow cop and mole who just saved his life, and he doesn’t even bat an eye. Without that development showing how he wants to become good and erase his past, his actions just seem a little out of place.
I didn’t really mind the merging of the two IA women into one, though. But it did seem a bit farcical that in The Departed they’d coincidentally end up sleeping with the same woman. With the American version toning down the character development and psychology a little bit, I could maybe see why they felt one would do instead of two.
And then there’s the actual end. The recordings are mentioned at the buzzer. And now that Matt Damon’s character has been simplified a bit, perhaps we can safely clean him up with some good old American cowboy justice. That differs greatly from IA, which makes IA somewhat more of the darker film in my opinion. My friend took great issue with the change, but I didn’t mind too much. Interestingly enough, according to the IA wiki, the American ending has more in common with IA‘s alternate ending that was made for mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia, governments known to be quite harsh on criminals. Amusing.
An alternate ending of Infernal Affairs was created for mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore. This ending was meant to please mainland officials by affirming that crime does not pay.
Overall, I did enjoy the Hollywood treatment. The cinematography, the English so I could actually keep up (I don’t understand Cantonese), and the all-star cast. Those really add up. The Departed also seemed a little easier to follow, particularly the very beginning when the characters are getting all set up. However, IA seemed more tense. Tense and intense. It really gave a sense of a proxy cat and mouse fight between the two moles. IA also seemed more psychological, delving into both of the Moles’ heads more than The Departed did. And I felt several scenes in the original were just flat out better: the police chief’s interception; the movie theater rendezvous, which was ridiculously bright in the American version for some reason – they may as well have been watching a movie in a greenhouse; the dying henchman who figures out what the Good Mole is; the end betrayal by the Bad Mole. That all adds up along with all the other differences. Which is why while I liked both, I think the original was the better movie. It probably had a smaller budget, it was a little more raw, in both good and bad ways, and it didn’t have the crazy star-power and the acting that came with it, but plot and characterization were just a bit better.