Infernal Mission (2004)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2008-04-20
“Infernal Mission” has all the tags of a dull, derivative timewaster: inexperienced writer and director, a couple of medium-name and very attractive principals, generic, barely dressed sets, by the numbers cinematography, a script that seems to be a cheap copy of a much better movie and (I think) shot on video. However the sum is greater than it generally ordinary parts or perhaps some of the parts shine are much better 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.

The three leads give solid, committed performances that allow the viewer to root for Mak Ka Mei, the police cadet recruited to be a mole in the organization of a drug kingpin (Teresa Mak,); Inspector Lai, a rookie police officer blackmailed by the same drug lord to be his eyes and ears in the police department (Ruby Wong) and Sham Kuen, the crime boss at the center of the operations (Tony Ho). Teresa Mak is as beautiful as ever, playing very tough when she needs to be, tender when necessary and always looking over her shoulder. The difficulties of her character, a female spy in the heart of a criminal organization are only hinted at—she would obviously have to sleep her way to the top since showing her value in the macho world of gunplay and strong arm tactics wouldn’t be available. 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.

Ruby Wong does an excellent job as the rising young inspector of the anti-drug squad. She is the daughter of a legendary police officer who was not only killed in the line of duty but who died in her arms—it was her first and his last violent confrontation with armed criminals. While still in mourning she is accosted by Kuen who has a tape with her father giving him information that allows him to avoid police surveillance while shipping drugs. She agrees to spy for him in order to protect her father’s legacy and is soon insanely conflicted but able to be super efficient in both her guises.

Kuen is depraved and sadistic with uncontrollable outbursts of furious violence and Tony Ho nails the character perfectly. When Inspector Lai wavers in her loyalty to him he stalks her to a store where she is getting fitted for her wedding gown, sneaks into a dressing room and slaps her around. The next time she equivocates he rapes her, telling her that the next step will be killing her fiance. It is over the top and completely believable. Sham Kuen needs killing and we just hope his death will be prolonged and painful.

There are some huge holes in the plot—big enough to drive a drug loaded truck through—but the sustained suspense and some terrific “not quite” recognition scenes keep things hurtling along so that we can ignore them. There isn’t anything original about “Infernal Mission” but the same can be said for most movies. It opens a familiar scene from crime/drug movies with visitors patted down for weapons at the door before the boss greets them like long lost brothers. Briefcases full of money are produced and checked, signals are given and drugs are set to be exchanged. When the deal blows up both the undercover agents are pressured by their real bosses about the next attempt—Mak by Inspector Lo, Lam Suet in an extended cameo, who wants the time and place of the deal and Inspector Lai by Kuen who wants to know when it will be safe to carry it out.

Fittingly, the main image pattern concerns disguise, make-up and false fronts. Mak and Lai first meet in a cosmetic shop—Mak is there collecting for Kuen, Lai ducks in because she thinks she might have been seen in a darkened cinema exchanging documents with Kuen. Mak acts like the proprietor, who has stepped out, suggesting different shades of foundation to Lai who, according to the really poor subtitles, is “too dark” and could be “whitened” by using some of the overpriced products. This is echoed later when the two of them, now becoming close but still unaware of the other’s secret, get tipsy on wine and drunkenly try to make each other up.

Much like its illustrious predecessor much of the drama and action of “Infernal Mission” takes place on rooftops including the final confrontation, a tightly written and acted scene.

There is one odd set of scenes involving Kuen’s mother who has Alzheimer’s disease and who lives in a palatial convalescent center. We know that Kuen hates Inspector Lo because he picked Kuen up when he was with his mother and didn’t allow him to bring her home so she wandered the streets in her dementia induced fear and confusion but nothing more is needed to make the conflict between them personal. The writer veers off into some scenes he might have thought were touching of Mak meeting with Kuen’s mother, possibly to show further that she is a decent person and he is a scoundrel—he hasn’t visited since she got there—but they were unnecessary and simply slowed things down.

Another big but in this case forgivable clunker is the actual drug transactions. It seems that the money is coming in to Hong Kong and the drugs are being smuggled out—to Thailand, of all places. This could be a problem with the egregious subtitles but most likely just something that slipped by in looks like a very compressed schedule.

An exciting and involving police melodrama, well worth watching