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Martin Scorsese's Movie, The Departed, Weakens Hong Kong Classic

The movie The Departed -- a remake of the Hong Kong classic Infernal Affairs -- may be considered one of the hottest movies of the year in America. But here in Asia most film critics and movie-goers agree that the original is far superior.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post wrote “With The Departed, Martin Scorsese had it all: (the thriller plot, the A-list actors – Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson). Sadly his remake of Infernal Affairs is a classic case of how the whole can be so much less than the sum of its parts.” Japan’s Daily Yomiuri concurred: “The Departed shows how tough it is to do a good remake -- even for Martin Scorsese and a trio of stars.” And Singapore’s Straits Times, echoing the voices of many moviegoers in Asia, declared “Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong original, was better than The Departed.”

The movie is about a showdown between a police officer who becomes a mole in the gangster world and a gangster who infiltrates the police. It is about trust and betrayal in the violent underground world. The original stars Tony Leung, the first Hong Kong actor to win a Best Actor award at Cannes Film Festival, as the police officer. Andy Lau who holds the title as Hong Kong’s biggest-grossing movie star plays the gangster. And the film was directed by two veterans of Hong Kong’s action cinema: Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. Hailed for its quality of script and production, Infernal Affairs nabbed all the top awards at the Chinese Oscars in 2003.

Asia’s critics point out that Scorcese’s rendering of the plot into good vs. evil in The Departed strips the story of subtlety and depth that made the original intriguing. They also pan the acting in The Departed: “DiCaprio doesn’t have the maturity of Leung, and Damon seems only half as cool as Lau,” writes Japan’s Daily Yomiuri.

Meantime Beijing’s censors have banned The Departed from the mainland because it shows gangsters trying to sell computer technology to ethnic Chinese villains. Beijing initially banned ‘Infernal Affairs,’ too, because the censors thought the ending was unethical. They didn’t like the gangster getting away with murder. The Hong Kong directors quickly shot an alternative ending for the mainland in which the gangster gets arrested by authorities. Interestingly, Scorsese’s ending of The Departed is similar to the mainland version in that the gangster doesn’t get off scot-free either – he gets shot by a former cop.

Watch the DVD of Infernal Affairs and you will have a chance to choose the movie’s ending – the Hong Kong version or the mainland version. Either way, Asia’s critics say, it still beats the American remake.

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Comments (18)

VW:

IA was soooooo much better than Departed.

Departed was copycat and Scorcese got an award for it? Sigh.... some creativity!

Dwayne M:

I thought it was a good movie, sort of long though, and a bit of over acting...but the ending I was disapointed with. I am reading about a "former cop" that shot Colin at the end of the movie. Former cop? I thought the undercover second in command had two weeks off (suspension?), with pay. I am very confused as to why he would shoot Colin. I would have imagined that the undercover guy would want Colin to suffer in jail, in the media, be chastised by the police, etc. Maybe they are setting up a sequel that involves the CIA? Anyway, didn't like the ending, and also could have done without the rat...we get it...Colin was a rat!

MMM:

That Ming survives and suffers in his "continuous hell" IS the soul of Infernal Affairs. To my mind it is what raises IA1 to masterpiece status (of course it doesn't hurt that each scene is pared down to pure essence). What a movie.

But I do think a remake could have been a good thing: something with the heart and craft of the original but with a western soul. The Departed wasn't it, but I do think it could have been done and I would have enjoyed it.

Matt Vomacka:

As far as the original VS unedited ending...I haven't seen the mainland version, only the one where Ming survives. But, I have to say, that's butchering the series' point...not as badly as The Departed did, but still. The whole point of the movie, and of IA III, is the "Eternal Hell" Ming goes through as a consequence of his surviving the events. It's a hell of a lot more interesting to see than a typical "guy dies immediately, satisfies moviegoers' need for revenge, gives closure" ending.

Andy Lee:

"Interestingly, Scorsese’s ending of The Departed is similar to the mainland version in that the gangster doesn’t get off scot-free either – he gets shot by a former cop."

Thanks for the spoiler, with no warning.

Sheesh.

Anonymous:

Yeah...I don't really understand why did they even bother with a remake. The original wasn't that hard to enjoy, even with all that human complexity and strong acting. Even the average American can "get it"

SoulSnax:

If Infernal Affairs was such a great film, then why did it have to be remade?

Oh, that's right. It wasn't "clean" and "pretty" enough. It needed the Leo and Matt treatment, as well as some oversimplification of plot elements to be more palatable to our shallow sensibilities.

Well, I guess The Departed is just an example of how "bleaching" can weaken the integrity of a delicate fabric.

I.T:

I agree, Infernal Affairs was infinitely better than The Departed. The first half of The Departed was nothing like the original and was quite terrible. The second half wasn't bad, but it was almost an exact rip off of Infernal Affairs.

My theory is that Scorsese tried to make a unique movie that was inspired by Infernal Affairs, but half way through it, he realised his version was horrible and decided to pretty much copy the original for the second half. And because of that... he wins an Oscar...

I also hate how a stereotyped Chinese deliveryman is killed in the movie without any remorse whatsoever (it doesn't help that because of movies like this, 7 or 8 Chinese deliverymen have been killed in the US in the last couple of years). Scorsese pretty much spat on the Chinese with the greatest disrespect after "stealing" their idea.

Rob:

Hollywood's mentality towards Asians can be summed up in this fashion:

"We like everything about you. We like your food. We like your customs. We like your culture. We just don't like YOU."

Best Picture acceptance speech:

It was nice of the Producer (Whatever his name is) to completely ignore and not give one word of thanks or credit to "Infernal Affairs" during his acceptance speech. Would Infernal Affairs not be one of the most imortant reasons he was even getting the award - hence deserve at least a quick word of acknowledgement? Apparently not.

WinstonSmith:

During the Oscars, the anonymous announcer proclaimed that The Departed was a remake of a Japanese movie!

I thought it was a Hong Kong movie, but perhaps everyone who insists on the soundless internet is wrong, because the TV said otherwise, and it wasn't promptly corrected or candidly challenged (neither by the screenwriter who got an Oscar for "his" screenplay), until Scorsese passingly mentioned Hong Kong somewhere in his acknowledgements. I wonder if people in Hong Kong are upset at this back handed lack of acknowledgement?

Ha ha... I guess to most (but not all of) Hollywood, all asians are alike, and they don't go very far to give respect to them, nor portray them warmly (ie, mostly as: enemies, villains, clowns, abusers, perverts or female sex objects), nor give much credit to them for their creativity. But alas, that isn't new, and is also part of a long trend of racism -- except for Clint Eastwood's fine film.

ikea:

Is it really such a surprise that the American remake would be watered down and simplified? I didn't think so. What really surprised me was the lack of creativity in the remake.

halozcel:

It seems to me,Scorcese should take the best director award five years ago with the film Gangs of New York.

Thomas Crampton:

My favorite experience of re-interpreted films was seeing the Tom Sellick-starring American version of three men and a baby dubbed into French. The American film was, of course, based on Trois hommes et un coffin, a French film.

Be funny if there is a version of The Departed dubbed into Cantonese to see the box office receipts compared to the original!

Ling Ling:

This is outrageous. Infernal Affais is NOT HK version of Departed. Departed is American version of IA!!!!! That's the difference!! :[

Moviemann:

As an American, I was really looking forward to the Americanized version of Infernal Affairs, a movie I absolutely love. I hadn't sat through more than 5 minutes of "The Departed" before I realized what a horrible, horrible movie one of our best directors had mangled from a treasure. Not only was there no depth but the endless talking and Jack Nicholson's ridiculous overacting made me just want to go home and watch the original.

I don't think every foreign movie is better than any American movie--my other top 5 movies are all American--but the idea that any movie can be made better by an American can certainly be disproved by this mess.

I'm not a big fan of IA 2 or IA 3, but IA1, on its own, is a masterpiece along the lines of The Godfather.

WinstonSmith:

It seems that Hollywood often creates this black/white divide between "good guys" and "bad guys", between white or American characters with good motives and minorities or foreigners with "evil motives" ...

Often, conflicts in reality are between people with opposing, but personally competing needs combined with misunderstanding. Understanding the depth of the "Other" shows the humanity of the people that one is hurting in conflict.

Removing that human depth of the other perspective, and enforcing a cartoonish relationship of stark moral superiority, sanitizes violence and makes it politically palatable, and easier to politically sanction morally justified violence. It could also socially reinforce racial notions of moral superiority. All of these aspects of mass media have a long history within the context of political and social justifications of colonialism and imperialism. The fact that Hollywood does this, is perfectly consistent with long established historical trends. Perhaps it is nearly permanently ingrained within a culture that has long profitted from colonialism.

It is also a consistent metaphor and pattern of indoctrination for how the "Powers That Be" want the American populace to view the rest of the world and its foreign peoples, and how foreign policy is often advertised in the mainstream media (at least in a run up to a war or to justify unfair economic exploitation).

Anonymous:

I completely agree. Why must all Hollywood movies have a blindingly black/white divide between good and evil? Infernal affairs followed the struggle of Leung with the utilitarian nature of 'the greater good', and the albeit subtle conversion of Lau from evil. In both cases, the movie ends with our introspection as to who we identify with or with whom we really sympathise.

The Departed dictates the conclusions and doesn't leave the audience with the important after-thoughts which made the original such a success.

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