The story opens at a Buddhist temple. Sam tells the newcomers how his criminal enterprise started: Protection rackets. Their enemy is the police. Men died fighting. The laws of the city do not move him; he makes a show of his piety, then he insists he takes his fate in his own hands. His success proves that a criminal does not have to be an underling. Indeed, who loves the good more than a criminal?
Lau’s recruitment is very briefly shown. He is one of several young men who will infiltrate the police. They are not known to be connected to the triads. Neither his excellence nor his faith are questioned. Sam’s plan implies that he defends himself; it also implies the police is also a triad.
Yan’s recruitment has three parts. His entry into police training, his excellence as a cadet, & his test of wit. His commander asks him how many files he had noticed on the desk; his future handler asks, what he notices about him. Wit means noticing both the obvious, despite its being obvious, & the unusual. – Similarities & dissimilarities. Those files turn out to determine his career, his only connection to the law.
The policing we see in the movie is shockingly scientific, in harmony with the new prosperity of Hong Kong. The police cadets, smart British colonial troops, are the only sign of the city before the British handover to China. In the modern world, police work in highly technological settings in skyscrapers, like corporations. But they have a special organized crime & triad bureau. Liberalism’s vapid understanding of love & the good cannot withstand the pre-modern criminals.
The police have trained Yan to be a warrior, but they did not make him a citizen. He had to love the laws to enter the police. Undercover work, however, removes from him both the protection of the laws & the reputation that attends heroes. Maybe the art of notice things is the art to make oneself unnoticed. But Yan cannot forget himself, else he becomes a criminal – cops have already arrested him often enough. To remember he is a cop, however, is to remember that he is in danger. Perhaps hell is living in fear.
Recourse to undercover officers is a grave admission. War is forever & there is no perpetual peace. The recalcitrance of the human being to enlightenment is the stuff of legends. What distinguishes Yan & Lau? Lau is reasonable, inclined to negotiate; Yan is emphatic about punishment. Lau leaves his sophisticated lover speechless, no longer knowing right & wrong. Yan earns the love of a psychiatrist: Modern psychological deceptions unravel & she learns that heroism is an argument for humanity.
The original story which was remade as The Departed