After a string of successes of remakes of recent Japanese cult hits like The Ring and The Grudge, Hollywood seems finally to be turning its eye to Hong Kong for material. As the Mecca for extravagant and imaginative action flicks for more than three decades, much has been pilfered from Hong Kong cinema in the past – including the director John Woo and actors like Bruce Lee, Maggie Chung and Jackie Chan. Rarely, however, has Hollywood attempted an outright remake of a Hong Kong hit.
Of course, with remakes the first reaction is always, “What’s the point?” In this case, the language barrier could be it – although Infernal Affairs, the 2002 movie that The Departed takes as its source, has built up a strong English-language following since its DVD release, and the likes of Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have proved that large audiences can handle subtitles these days.
Instead, it seems that the real point of the remake is simply that all those involved had fallen in love with the original movie’s Shakespearian complexity, and fancied having a shot at it themselves. Just as there have been multiple brilliant productions of Hamlet and Macbeth, if a storyline is strong enough, why not have more than one take on it?
Normally, hopes would not be high for a good job to be done, but with the talent on display here, there’s no reason to fear. With a story revolving around gangsters infiltrating the Boston-based Massachusetts State Police, with an undercover cop simultaneously working his way up through the gangsters’ ranks, who better to sit in the director’s chair than the king of gangster movies, Martin Scorsese? If you’re in need of someone truly evil and cunning as the godfather, who better than Jack Nicholson? And, with the film calling for not one but two flawed heroes, why not pick up two of today’s finest young(ish) male actors in Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, both putting in fine performances? Chuck Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg and Ray Winston into the mix and, even though Robert De Niro was forced to drop out thanks to scheduling clashes, this is a truly impressive (if decidedly testosterone-fuelled) cast.
Of course, for fans of the original – a genuinely classy masterpiece that’s well worth looking out – the twists and turns of the convoluted, treachery-strewn plot will all be expected, and the American replacements for original stars Andy Lau and Tony Leung may not seem like quite the right casting. But with a replacement cast as fine as this, and Scorsese – who even when he’s not at his best is always an interesting director – at the helm, even for those who know the story there is much to appreciate.
For those unfamiliar with the original, this will be an engaging brain work-out as well as an enjoyable piece of exciting entertainment. The only questions are will Scorsese try and reunite his all-star cast to do remakes of the two equally superb sequels, and will this finally be the film to win him his long-overdue Oscar? That the original Hong Kong movie was overlooked for an Academy Award nomination was criminal – it remains to be seen whether Scorsese’s version catches enough eyes to give him his seventh attempt at gaining a golden statuette. While not up there with his best work – after all, what is? – this certainly has that potential.