WARNING: Spoilers

Mass media products like music, films, and TV shows are not only entertaining, but in many cases these products enlighten people about the many similarities and differences across cultures. Take, for example, Infernal Affairs (2002) and The Departed (2006). Infernal Affairs was a Chinese film directed by Wai-Keung Lau and Alan Mak and produced by Media Asia, one of the larger film producers in Asia. The Departed, on the other hand was directed by Martin Scorsese and also produced by a large corporation, Time Warner. The Departed is a remake of Infernal Affairs; therefore, the plots are very similar. Both films are about two undercover agents on different sides, who race to discover each other’s identities before they’re caught lying. Although the plots are the same there are subtle differences in each film that showcase American and Chinese culture.

The first and most noticeable difference in the films is the amount of violence. American movies are often more violent than foreign ones and The Departed is no exception. In almost every scene someone is being shot or beaten while blood splatters across the screen. Infernal Affairs is much less violent and although there are still shoot-outs between the cops and mafia there’s hardly any blood involved. It’s hard to tell which is better, because the use of violence in each sets an important tone for the film. In The Departed the constant presence of blood and violence lends the movie a harsh and gritty mood, but at the same time it desensitizes the audience to the point where the deaths at the end of the film leave less of an impact. The tone in Infernal Affairs is much lighter and it lacks the raw power of the other film, however, where violence and blood are used, the scenes become much more intimate and dramatic.

Another interesting aspect of both films was the sexual references. The Departed had more references to sex in the actual film, while Infernal Affairs was much less explicit. However, Infernal Affairs wasn’t completely devoid of any sex appeal. On the cover for the film there is the image of a scantily clad women holding a gun. Nowhere in this movie does one of the female characters hold a gun while wearing a tight-fitting dress. So what does this mean? It means that in either country, sex sells.

Music was also a huge indicator of the different cultures. The intense scenes in The Departed are accompanied by music that consists of screaming, the Irish jig and rap. Infernal Affairs, on the other hand, uses wind instruments and the soothing voice of a woman. These soundtrack choices are very different, but both are equally important in developing the tone of the film. While one is reminiscent of ancient Chinese culture and religion, the other reminds the audience of the city and the harsh life that inevitably comes with living on the street.

The romance aspect of each film is also very different. In Infernal Affairs the main characters have their own women to pine after, but in The Departed both men are sleeping with the same women. This seems shows that in China devotion and honor are the traits both men and women should share. The much different approach in The Departed shows that in America people are not necessarily disloyal to each other, but entertained by love triangles.

The endings of both the films are also noticeably different. In Infernal Affairs Inspector Lau Kin Ming, the mole for the mafia lives to see another day. However, the same character in The Departed, renamed Colin Sullivan, dies. This is a small, but very important change in the script that leaves the audience with a completely different message at the end. Infernal Affairs is more of a quietly tragic film. Lau Kin Ming lives, but he must live with the knowledge that he killed a man and betrayed his wife and friends. Nothing happens to Lau Kin Ming and he is regarded as a hero even though he was the reason so many people died. In some ways this is much more tragic than if Lau Kin Ming had been killed. The Departed, on the other hand, is much more theatrically heart wrenching, because not only does Colin Sullivan die, but his wife also leaves with his unborn child. This particular ending tells the audience that the villain always gets what they deserve. In some ways the Chinese version is much more thought provoking, while the American version falls into the stereotype; the good guys always win.

The same sort of theme mentioned above is represented in the death of the mafia boss as well. In Infernal Affairs Sam is shown dead in a puddle of water, his arms splayed out on either side. This image was somewhat reminiscent of Christ on the cross or even a baptism. It seemed to say that although Sam had been an immoral man in life, in death he found redemption. However, Costello, the mafia boss from The Departed, dies in the blade of a bulldozer as if he were a piece of trash or dirt to be tossed aside. This shows that Costello was a bad man through and through and reinforces the theme that the bad guys always lose.

There’s no doubt that both films are great. They both explore a lot of wonderful themes and each scene is well thought out and put together. Either culture, American or Chinese, would enjoy these films. Even so, each film demonstrates the cultural differences between the two countries. The Departed displays the tendency Americans have towards enjoying violence, love triangles, and seeing the bad guys lose. Plus, it is much more theatrical film and has some very jarring scenes because of it. The Departed shows that Americans like grittiness in their films and there must always be a clear line between good and evil. Infernal Affairs appeals more towards a Chinese audience by showing that honor and redemption are what is important in the end. However, even with all the differences seen in the films and the differences between cultures, one thing will always be the same, people are entertained by action, fast-paced plots, drama, betrayal, and romance.

Watch the trailers! They demonstrate a lot of the points I speak about above.

Infernal Affairs:

The Departed: