Could you still outstand your performance under pressure?

Andrew Lau, Alan Mak - 2002 - Hong Kong, China - 101 minutes

Infernal Affairs

The film tells the story of an undercover Hong Kong police officer, Chan (Tony Leung), who infiltrates a Triad, and another officer, Lau (Andy Lau), who is secretly a spy for the same Triad.

In 1991, Lau, a member of the Hong Kong gangster Triad, obeyed the instructions of their boss Hon Sam (Eric Tsang), and joined the police force to become a spy; in 1992, Chan, an outstanding student at the police training school, was asked by his superiors to go deep into the Triad to be an undercover cop, with the ultimate goal of becoming Hon’s trustworthy right-hand man.

In its original name, the term “Wu Jian (无间)” derives from Buddhism and means “the lowest degree of hell.”

Continuous Hell, also known as The Avici, is a place where one can never reincarnate or be relieved of guilt and suffering; however, these two protagonists were still attempting to be reincarnated. Lau gradually wanted to become a truly good person, while Chan wished to return to his police identity as soon as possible.

Over ten years, Chan experienced great stress from his undercover work, while Lau quickly rose through the ranks in the police force, eventually becoming a Senior Inspector.

In 2002, the Criminal Investigation Department interrupted a deal between Hon and a Thai cocaine dealer after receiving a tip-off from Chan. However, Lau alerted Hon, giving him enough time to get his henchmen to dispose of the evidence. Actions from both sides had failed.

After this incident, both parties realized they had a spy within their organization, putting them in a race against time to figure out who the spy was and eliminate their own risk.

These two characters, who kept their names hidden, clearly did not fail the high expectations, but they were also under a great strain.

Which side would win eventually?

I won’t reveal more details now; instead, let’s watch the trailer and discuss some parts of the film that inspired me.




What can we learn from this film?

Infernal Affairs has won the audience’s heart with its compact plot and neat narrative style. Film reviewers have labelled it the “final highlight of the peak age of Hong Kong film-making,” and it has received countless accolades.

What work-related inspirations could we find in this film?

It is undeniable that whether they were undercover or spy, they worked under extreme pressure while concealing their identities.

How to still outstand your performance under pressure?

With his greasy hair and dodging eyes, Chan was scared all day and could only fall asleep for a few minutes on the psychiatrist’s chair. He was perplexed about rights and wrongs, and his anxieties about his identity almost collapsed him.

However, we still identified several outstanding qualities in this undercover cop:

  • Solid decision-making. Do not act rashly when the moment isn’t right and would rather give up all the previous efforts than put yourself on a risky cliff;
  • Rational thinking. Learn to retreat, avoid allowing your emotions to rule you, and take into account the overall situation;
  • Concealment-taking. I was constantly faced with this dilemma as a journalist: you want to be on the same “front” as your interviewees, keeping them from seeing the harsh questions. Therefore, during the interview, some techniques must be used to cover up certain parts of my identity, allowing the interviewees to relax and freely respond to what they truly believed. However, this is more challenging than anticipated;
  • Detail regarding. Whether in life or work, it would be easier to gain the trust and attention of others once you pay extra attention to details;
  • Strategic applying. When you discover someone’s flaws, you don’t confront him directly but rather expose these problems in front of the person they love the most. “Bad people” also have loved ones, you know, and sometimes just a simple disappointed look from their loved ones could crash them more than confronting them directly.

Meanwhile, Lau was flourishing within the police station where he was a spy, with a fiancée whom he would soon marry. We may also see in this spy:

  • Silence treating. When you are almost dismantled, there’s no need to justify immediately. Sometimes you will naturally solve some problems by watching the changes;
  • Self-proving. When someone at work is skeptical about you, it may be a good moment to put in more effort and prove yourself.

I would recommend this movie to anyone interested in strategies and game theory. The police-gangster theme is usually a favourite of Hong Kong films. Still, Infernal Affairs is more about people’s hearts and human nature than the customary harsh battles between police and gangsters.

Enjoy the movie and pay attention to how they work under high pressure!

PS. Martin Scorsese recreated Infernal Affairs into The Departed in 2006, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, and Mark Wahlberg, with the narrative set in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Departed won 4 Oscars, and it was also the first time that the famous director Martin Scorsese had won the Oscar for Best Director. You may also watch this movie if you’re interested!


Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Sammi Cheng, Kelly Chen, Edison Chen, Shawn Yue, Chapman To, Gordon Lam, Elva Hsiao

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