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''Infernal Affairs/The Departed''

By RD Heldenfels Published: October 9, 2006

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I saw ''The Departed'' recently after watching its Hong Kong predecessor ''Infernal Affairs.'' And, in another step toward writing more about movies, I filed a piece for the Beacon Journal about the two, which you can find here.

That wasn't a review of either movie, since George Thomas reviewed ''The Departed,'' although I did say ''Infernal Affairs'' was also good. But we live in a comparison age, and someone at work pretty quickly asked me which one was better. I've already said in the blog that it's kind of a push,  but if pressed to make a pick, I'd lean toward ''Infernal Affairs.''

I don't expect everyone to feel that way. Watching ''Infernal Affairs'' means getting used to subtitles, for one thing. And ''The Departed,'' which topped the box office over the weekend, boasts an amazing amount of star power for American audiences -- Nicholson, Damon, DiCaprio, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg -- as well as the handiwork of Martin Scorsese, one of the great American directors and a personal favorite.

I'd probably say that the greatest living American director is Clint Eastwood, based on many decades of watching him (The last time I was reviewing movies on a regular basis, my bill of fare included his ''The Gauntlet.'') and on his consistently high accomplishment in recent years. But I haven't fully tested that notion, and it's probably a better argument for another day.

Back to ''Infernal Affairs,'' it does not lack in celebrity either, if you know Hong Kong cinema. But since I didn't know much about Hong Kong films, I was free to forget the stars and focus on their characters in a way that ''The Departed'' did not allow. There was also a melancholy to the story that's not nearly as evident in ''The Departed'' (which even ends on a visual joke.) Also, I saw ''Infernal Affairs'' before ''The Departed'' -- which only seemed fair, since it was made first -- so the American film had me nodding at the scenes transplanted from the original, as well as being aware of the plot departures.

Now, I'll probably watch ''The Departed'' again at some point, and I'm sure I'll enjoy parts of it. But I'm more likely to sit through all of ''Infernal Affairs'' -- and I'm really curious about its two sequels -- because it had a wholeness that is lacking in the more anecdotal and overlong ''Departed.''

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