Thursday, May 7, 2009

Infernal Mission

No one ever sets out to make a bad movie although in hindsight one can see that the combination of creative people assembled for a project seems to doom if from the beginning. Sometimes, though, a movie turns out better than anyone might think it could. Infernal Mission is such a film.

Infernal Mission has many of the elements of a dull timewaster: an inexperienced writer and director; generic, barely dressed sets; by the numbers cinematography and a script that seems to be a cheap copy of a much better movie. It is visually uninteresting and dramatically dull. However the sum is greater than its generally ordinary parts or perhaps some of the parts shine are much brighter than one would expect. Even though the war room for the elite anti-drug squad looks like the word processing pool of a small accounting office, the gun fights are (with a couple of notable exceptions) perfunctory and the plot is pushed forward by people finding clues lying around on desks, it is still an effective police drama with decently developed characters, believable conflict and hidden agendas that are hinted at and only slowly revealed.

Teresa Mak plays Mak Ka Mei, the police cadet recruited to be a mole in the organization of a drug kingpin. She is beautiful as always, playing very tough when she needs to be, tender when necessary and makes it clear that she is always looking over her shoulder. The difficulties her character encounters, a female spy in the heart of a criminal organization are only hinted at—her main tool for getting information on drug deal is sex, since she had to hide her skills gunplay and strong arm tactics . Her status as both an insider, being present when huge deals are made, and as an outsider, never completely trusted are clear from the beginning and serve as one of the hinges for conflict. The audience likes her and wants her to succeed.

Infernal Mission is the only film credit for director Chan Man-Leun and screenwriter Chung Bond. However Cha Cheun Lee, its producer, has directed eighteen Hong Kong films, most of them romantic comedies or Category III not terribly hard-core pornography. He has been an actor, producer and writer--typical (or at least not untypical) for someone far below the top rank of Hong Kong film who wants to work in the business. I assume, based on nothing other than Cha Cheun-Lee's experience and the almost invisible status of the director and writer that he was more respoonsible than anyone for what showed up onscreen.

In addition to Teresa Mak the cast features Ruby Wong Cheuk-Ling, Lam Suet and Tony Ho Wah-Chiu. Ruby Wong, the mole in the police department, is a very attractive and talented actress who has done comedy for Ringo Lam and police dramas for Johnny To. She had a terrible hairdo/wig which actually distracted the audience from her performance, with them wondering why her hair was covering her face instead of the qualities she brought to her character. Tony Ho played the violent and erratic crime boss. His character was over the top for most of the movie and he brought it off with well. With 48 movies in 10 years--a lot for an actor in the post-handover world--he is a talented young pro. Lam Suet, as the police commander behind Teresa Mak's undercover operation, has always been perfect for any cop or hoodlum role.

The ensemble portrays the constant anxiety of both working undercover and being responsible for the operation. The script, which is based on, borrowed from or in homage to Infernal Affairs, keeps things hurtling along--no subplots, comic relief or stopping to think slow down the rush to the inevitable bloody showdown.

There weren't a lot of stunts--this is a buttoned up, low budget police drama--and the most dangerous thing that any of the actors did was smoke cigarettes. Teresa Mak had a quite a few scenes in which she smoked. She may not have had a nicotine habit when filming started but she must have before it finished.

Ruby Wong

Tony Ho and Lam Suet
Infernal Mission is available at a few online stores incuding HKFlix and YesAsia

The Hong Kong Movie Database page (registration may be required) is here HKMDB

1 comment:

  1. Hi ewaffle --

    Wow, you're really kind to what's essentially a cheapo rip-off of "Infernal Affairs", albeit with an interesting feminine twist -- and one which I watched because Ruby Wong's in it. Incidentally, interesting isn't it how our love for particular thespians who don't seem so highly rated by directors and casting folks can, sometimes for better but often for worse, lead us to watch movies like "Infernal Mission"? ;S