Spoiler Warning: I try to be as spoiler free as possible here, but you’re bound to find out some plot-related things here if you’ve not watched The Departed.
When The Departed (2006) was released, it got very favorable reviews and even won Oscar awards. To prepare for watching it, I watched Infernal Affairs (2002) (that The Departed remade) again just before watching The Departed at that time. I remember feeling underwhelmed. I could not pinpoint the exact reason why I got that feeling. The fact that it got nearly universally positive reviews and Oscar awards confused me even more. I thought perhaps watching the original first before watching The Departed gave the original an unfair advantage and blinded me from discovering the greatness of the remake. I decided that I need to rewatch it again in the future.
Flash forward to 2013. Korea has released the second movie based on Infernal Affairs. Yes, second! The first one is City of Damnation (also known as Sorry for the City) (2009). The latest one is New World (2013). So it is time for me to (re)watch all four movies to do a proper comparison for myself. This time, the sequence I watch these movies is:
- The Departed (2006)
- City of Damnation (2009)
- New World (2013)
- Infernal Affairs (2002)
Upon this second viewing of The Departed, I immediately found out why I did not like it as much as the original. Although it follows the original story closely, and even integrated a little information from Infernal Affairs II (2003) and Infernal Affairs III (終極無間) (2003), there are several seemingly minor changes which made a major impact to the perfection of the story. For a movie like this, the story is the single most important thing.
- In The Departed, the reason for people to first suspect there are undercover moles in their respective organizations is unclear, because a business transaction scene is shifted later.
- The flow of the movie is not as clear to me. In Infernal Affairs, I clearly saw something that happened in scene A causes scene B, which in turn causes scene C, etc. In The Departed, there are several scenes of DiCaprio that seem disjointed to me. In particular, he suddenly appears in one scene beating some unknown guy without any lead-in from a prior scene, then he finds out something bad about his mob boss.
- It is unclear why the guy who found out DiCaprio’s role does not tell others. In Infernal Affairs there is no such problem (because here the guy is crazy, is more concerned about beautiful massage girls than doing his gangster job, and had a long friendship with the protagonist as revealed in the original sequels.)
- DiCaprio explained how he got the ultimate evidence and implied that his boss trusted him most after all. This is a contradiction to a previous scene in which his boss clearly did not trust him. In Infernal Affairs there is no such contradiction because the evidence is got differently. Besides, whether the boss trusts him or not is ambiguous.
- The presence of Mark Wahlberg’s character in the story seriously undermines the danger of having no one else knowing about DiCaprio’s identity in the rooftop scene.
- There are even fewer gangsters who work for the mob boss, so his influence is visually not as powerful. The Koreans really got this right – in New World (2013) we see the criminal organization is huge.
I believe many people in Hong Kong would agree with me that Infernal Affairs (2002) is the best critically acclaimed Hong Kong movie that also got an excellent box office performance in the last 20 years. (Note: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) is a Chinese movie, but not a Hong Kong movie.) While some aspects of it can be criticized, like the female roles in it, the main story is nearly flawless. I read a critic felt being spoon fed by it and his intelligence be insulted, and he did not appreciate the music. I felt differently. I’m sure not everyone in the world is as intelligent as that critic. Besides, I love the music.
I asked myself whether I’m biased towards Hong Kong movie. I think I’m not. I buy movie tickets as many times as necessary to watch big budget Hollywood productions every year. I buy tickets for Hong Kong movies only once every several years.
Wikipedia claims that City of Damnation (also known as Sorry for the City) (2009) is a Korean comedic remake of Infernal Affairs. This is not really true. Other than that it has two opposing undercover moles, and a certain character dies, there are very few similarities between the two movies. In this version, the two protagonists do not really have conflict, so any potential tension arising from that is absent. The story here is average. The comedy is also average – the movie thinks that hitting people in the head repeatedly is really funny, so it has lots of such scenes with different people.
New World (2013) was billed as a Korean version of Infernal Affairs. Before watching it, I thought that it could not possibly improve the original story much. I was wrong with my assumptions. The undercover guys are all on the same side! It also emphasizes the rival factions which compete for the top position in the gangster organization. These two aspects alone make it an entirely different story, although it does retain certain elements from Infernal Affairs. Whereas the original shy away from showing violence, there is a climactic battle in this version that is bloody impressive. The filmmakers clearly know its audience, so it chose a twist ending that cannot be possibly more different from the original. Although the first half of the movie lacks tension or any real threat, the story is very good. It’s worthwhile to watch this just to see a good gangster battle and the shocking ending.