For The Orientalist In You
Halfway through this movie, I realized that I had seen it before. Except the first time I watched it, it was yellower and made less sense, indicating to me that it was probably from the Orient. The Far East has provided much in the way of valuable exports to the New World since the Chrysanthemum and Dragon Thrones open their jade gates to Western trade. First silk and spices, then powdered rhinoceros horn for impotent opium addicts, and now incomprehensible horror and action movies, much has come our way from the Portuguese trade routes and the Dutch East India Company. Infernal Affairs, now The Departed, is no exception.
Now, I'm normally of the opinion that trans-cultural remakes are a bad idea. The films are generally better the first time around, and since I don't want to get anyone else's culture on me anyway, it's best to leave these things well enough alone. However, in the case of the Japans, the proud Nipponese are still beginners when it comes to language and narrative, unable to tell simple stories without throwing in a pink-haired lady constantly complaining in a shrill voice not unlike a mewling, toothless infant. So, it's a good thing that these films are translated, sanitized, and repackaged for North American audiences, because otherwise I couldn't possibly understand the artistry of these noble savages. After all, a movie can't possibly be good if it doesn't have either Jack Nicholson or Leonardo Di Caprio in it.
And The Departed has both, plus director Martin Scorsese, which means it's an Oscar nomination waiting for a full page Variety ad. Sticking fairly close to the original script, The Departed tells a complex story rather simply, paralleling the life of an undercover cop infiltrating a crime boss with a crooked cop infiltrating the police department. The two stories intertwine, and things go steadily downhill from there, with Scorsese's trademark love of violence and nerdy structuralist film. The script is tight, and despite the fact that Jack Nicholson seems to be planning to lose it sometime in the next few years, the performances really elevate the film from a great script to a great film. And thank goodness. If Scorsese hadn't brought this film over the sea, no doubt in a galleon full of nutmeg, saffron, and bolts of fine silk, and translated it into white, the masses wouldn't be able to appreciate the winding, surprising plot and the taut screenplay. Like a Filipino pearl diver, he has plucked a gem out of the land of raw seafood and polished it to a brilliant shine that all civilized peoples can enjoy. If it weren't for great cultural philanthropists like Scorsese, we would have to watch The Ring in its original form, hysteria and goobledygook intact. I would have to watch Shall We Dance with its original Asian cast, struggling to tell the female lead from the male, instead of trying to avoid being aroused by the fact that Richard Gere looks like a 10 year old boy and Jennifer Lopez dresses like a hooker. I would have to read The Grudge instead of refusing to watch it because it looks retarded. So, I'm thankful that Scorsese brought this film over, since the last thing I ordered from the Orient came in a box full of air holes, and refused to cook unless she got to eat too. Plus, despite what the pamphlet led me to believe, the bruises showed up despite the yellow skin. So it seems that The Departed is as close one can get to the Orient, without risking polluting our Western minds with the seductive mysteries of the East. How very exotic.