Film / The Infernal Affairs Trilogy

The three Infernal Affairs films are incredibly twisty cops vs. Triads films set in Hong Kong between 1991 and 2003. The first film, set in 2002, is based around the stories of two mirrored infiltrators. Chan Wing Yan is an undercover cop in the gang of the chubby, Affably Evil gangster Hon Sam. Yan's handler is Chessmaster senior cop Wong, who doesn't realise that his most trusted underling, Lau Kin Ming, is actually a mole planted in the police force by Sam years before. As Wong's attempts to bring Sam down reach their endgame, Yan and Ming both find their covers in danger of being blown and are both ordered by their pretended bosses to catch the "moles" who are actually themselves.

The second film is a Prequel that tells the story of how Sam rose to his position in the first film, and the unexpected roles that Yan, Ming, and Wong played in that. The third film is a sequel that follows the stories of the surviving characters from the first film, and also tells a flashback story set just before it. It introduces two new significant characters to replace the dead people: Yeung, a smooth and sinister, possibly corrupt, cop from the Security branch; and Shen, a mysterious gangster from the Chinese mainland.

Elements of all three films were streamlined into the remake as The Departed, which transferred the action to Boston and made the Triad equivalents Irish-American gangsters (with a bit of Irish Mob mythology about Whitey Bulger tossed in), and won the 2006 Best Picture Oscar. In Japan, an episode aired in TBS in 2012 as a remake under the title Double Face - Sennyuu Sosa Hen. It was adapted in South Korea as City of Damnation and in India as Homam in the Telugu language.

There's a TV series sequel with the same name, which takes place years after the end of the third movie.

Oh, and the title and the epigrams at the beginnings and ends of the films suggest that Hong Kong is Buddhist Hell and all the characters' lives suck because they're being punished for the sins of their past lives. Or they metaphorically evoke the hells that Yan and Lau are living in as a result of their undercover rules.

The film series provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Sam in his good mood. Even more so in the second film, as he was Wong's best friend.
  • And I Must Scream: In the ending of the third film, Ming is confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed and catatonic.
  • Becoming the Mask: Downplayed with Yan, as he was struggling to keep himself from becoming his own mask. Zig-zagged with Ming, who wants to embrace his identity as a cop, even if it means indirectly causing the death of Wong and Yan and the killings of Sam and Billy to cover his past.
  • Being Evil Sucks: If you're a gangster, you will probably end up an utterly corrupt, friendless wreck of a human tormented by guilt over your crimes, and you'll probably die young and unpleasantly.
  • Being Good Sucks: If you're a cop, you know that society is essentially corrupt, that any gangster you manage to put away will get rapidly replaced, and that you'll probably die young and unpleasantly.
  • Big Bad: The first film has Hon Sam, the Triad boss ordering the infiltration.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Dr. Lee's name is a pun on psychologist in Cantonese.
    • When Wong was giving a watch to Yan, he noted a pinhole camera was located at the number 5, reflecting Yan's birthday and his status as an undercover. note 
    • While filling out their personal information, Keung asked Yan regarding the the second letter of the word bodyguard in Chinese. Yan almost got the right letter only to made a mistake with the radical. Doubles as a funny moment.
  • Broken Pedestal: Wong fell out with Sam after the events of the second film, establishing their rivalry. Sam even foreshadows this in the beginning, while he was dining with Wong in police station.
  • Character Tics: Both Yan's tic of tapping his fingers on things, and Ming's of tapping objects he's carrying against his leg as he walks, are plot points.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The envelope handed by Sam to Ming, Yan recognized it judging by the handwriting he left on it.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Ming constantly struggling with his double identity as a mole for Sam as he attempts to embrace his identity as a police.
    • Yan was an illegitimate son of Ngai Kwun, a triad boss and father of Ngai Wing-hau. Despite being estranged, Yan's tie to him almost got him expelled from the police academy for real until Wong offered Yan a second chance.
  • Destination Defenestration: Superintendent Wong gets thrown off the rooftop by Sam's goons after he refused to compromise Yan's identity.
  • Detective Mole: Ming was tasked by Wong to find out the mole within the police force, which also happens to be himself.
  • Dirty Cop: Ming and Billy as they're both Sam's mole in police force. Yeung was suspected to be one of this due to his tactics and his connection with Shen, a mainland gangster. Turns out Shen is an undercover cop working for the mainland government and is cooperating with Yeung to expose Ming's real identity.
  • Driven to Suicide: In third film, after Ming inadvertently revealed himself as Sam's mole, he snapped and killed Yeung before gets wounded by Shen. Ming then attempts suicide by shooting himself through his lower jaw, too bad the bullet doesn't deliver the fatal blow.
  • Everything's Louder with Bagpipes: Played at cop funerals.
  • External Combustion: Superintendent Luk died to a car bomb set by Ngai, which was intended for Wong as a revenge for his role in his father's murder.
  • Gambit Pileup: All three films, but especially the plotting in the second film involving Wong, Sam, Sam's wife Mary, and Ngai Wing-Hau.
  • Genre Shift: The first two films are gangster movies, the third is a Mind Screw psychological horror.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: The main theme of the second film. On one hand you have a cop masterminding a mob boss' murder and on the other you have the son of the mob boss attempting to go legit.
  • Here We Go Again: the third film ends with a flashback to the period of the first film that finishes with Yan and Ming unknowingly meeting each other in a hi-fi store - the scene that began the main action of the first film after an establishing pre-credit sequence.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: In the first film, Yan experienced one after witnessing Wong landed on the taxi he just got off.
  • Hidden Wire: Ngai found this in his half-brother, Yan's jacket in his dying moment.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself: In the first film, both Yan and Ming are ordered by their apparent boss to find the mole in their team, while actually being that person.
  • If I Can't Have You...: Ming sold the first Mary out to the Ngais when she refused to return his romantic affections.
  • Likes Older Women: A younger Ming towards the first Mary, Sam's wife.
  • Look Both Ways: Sam's wife, Mary was ran over by Ngai's gangsters at the airport after Ming betrayed her.
  • The Mole: The two leads are the most obvious example. Shen is an undercover cop, and Billy acts as a mole for the triads.
  • My Greatest Failure: In the beginning of the second film, Wong tells Sam how he failed to save his partner from being impaled by a gangster during his junior year.
  • Napoleon Delusion: In the third film, Ming turns out to have gone insane and believe that he is now Yan.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Invoked by the story of Wong told to Sam in second film, where he tried to stop a gang fight as a junior cop with his partner. His partner was mortally wounded by a gangster and Wong wounded and arrested the assailant in return. Wong encountered the said gangster nine years later, boozing with Ngai's gang members, as if he faced no consequences for his crime. Wong remarked the incident with a fitting proverb while voiced his regret for not emptying his gun in the gangster's face.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: In a morally-inverted example, Wong likes doing this to Sam whenever he's arrested.
  • Out with a Bang: In the second film the capo "Gandhi" is suffocated with a plastic bag by a female assassin while having sex with her.
  • The Cuckoo Lander Was Right: All through the three films, Keung has always been the one to point out undercover cops. A few times, he has also made throwaway comments pointing to Yan as a cop.
  • The Purge: The massacre of Ngai's lieutenants in the second film, and Ngai's family near the end of the movie.
  • Those Two Guys: Del Piero and Keung are usually seen with each other in the scenes they appeared in the first movie.
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: Billy shot Yan in the head while the latter was holding Ming at the gunpoint, before Billy revealed himself as another Sam's mole to Ming.
  • Survivor Guilt: Ming undergoes this following the events of the first film, which also drove him insane.
  • Switch To Mandarin: Asked by Shen during his meeting with Yan and Yeung when they speak in Cantonese. Reality ensues as Mandarin is the official language of mainland China and Shen comes from there.
  • The Scapegoat: Billy. Ming pins everything on him at the beginning of the third film.
  • Unperson: Ming erases Yan's police file after Yan discovered Ming's double identity as Sam's mole.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Sam ordered his Thai partner to dispose all of Ngai's remaining family member, including his kids.

Alternative Title(s): Infernal Affairs