WRIT 340 Assignment 3
Prof. William Gorski
The Departed: A Quintessentially American Story
Have film makers today run out of original ideas and ways to artistically express their individuality? With the recent slew of film remakes and adaptations of classics such as King Kong, The Manchurian Candidate, and Ocean’s Eleven, it would appear that the film industry has had to reach into the past to seek inspiration for their new works. Critics may claim that in the capitalistic, hyper competitive world of film production today, profits take precedence over trying to construct an engaging story line from scratch. After all, remakes and adaptations of film classics guarantee a sense of familiarity and nostalgia with the audience, and seem sure-bets for box office success. However, history reveals that in the world of the arts, some of the most prominent literary and film texts have actually greatly depended on works of the past. Infernal Affairs, an original 2002 Hong Kong crime-thriller by Alan Mak and Felix Chong, tells the story of a police officer who infiltrates a triad – a Chinese criminal organization, and a triad member working undercover in the police force, with both men trying to expose each other. The film garnered a loyal following and widespread critical acclaim in Asia. When legendary director Martin Scorsese took on the challenge of adapting Infernal Affairs for his 2006 Hollywood epic, The Departed, some wondered if he could still add his unique touch to an already outstanding classic. As it turned out, The Departed more than held its own as the film received four Oscars at the 79th Academy Awards. Although The Departed faithfully follows the plot of Infernal Affairs, it distinguishes itself from the original by exploring the complexities of morality while critiquing the corrupt public institutions that claim to serve the American citizens. Through Scorsese’s deft use of character development and questioning of traditional notions of ethics, The Departed depicts a world where the line separating good and evil is blurred, and anyone can switch their identities to gain an advantage in society, by fair means or foul. The Departed distinguishes itself from Infernal Affairs in its challenge to conventional morality. Although The Departed stays remarkably close to the plot of Infernal Affairs, both films are made with different cultural contexts in mind, and paint completely opposing moral universes. Both in the beginning and conclusion of Infernal Affairs, Buddhist teachings allude to the notion that one has to suffer and be punished for wrongdoing. Throughout Infernal Affairs, Yan, the triad member who infiltrates the Hong Kong police force, contemplates turning over a new leaf and leaving his criminal past behind for good. He has become accustomed to his position in the police force, which is depicted as honorable and respectable in the film. To wipe out his criminal background, Yan kills his triad boss in a police raid. Although Yan is able to start afresh on the good side, he will forever have to live in guilt for his sins. On the other hand, Chan, the undercover police officer in the triad, is shot dead. But unlike Yan, he has lived his life with dignity and officers pay tribute at his funeral for his valuable contributions to the police force. While Chan is presented as a beacon of incorruptibility, Yan is painted as a conniving and ruthless man, and thus pays for his actions. The mandarin title of Infernal Affairs, translates to a “continuous hell,” where the sinner has to endure endless suffering and face his guilty conscience forever (Brussat n.p.) In Infernal Affairs, the difference between good and evil is as clear as black and white. While the Hong Kong police force is a symbol of bravery and heroism, the triad is representative of all things sinister and deplorable. In contrast, The Departed blurs the line between good and evil, and questions if such distinctions ever...