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Dharma Movie Review: Infernal Affairs I & II

The Path to Continuous Hell  《  间道 1,2

Infernal Affairs

Plot Outline:

Each side of the law sends a mole to infiltrate each organisation and gather information, in hope of manipulating and outwitting each other. The undercover policeman Yan (Tony Leung as adult / Shawn Yu as youth) and undercover criminal Ming (Andy Lau as adult / Edison Chen as youth) both live confounding stolen double lives for years, in time pledging unconscious loyalty to both sides to some extent, losing themselves in the greyness of good and evil, as they struggle to maintain their guises while having their secret agendas. The longer Yan "works" for the dark side, the harder it is for him to believe he is on the good side. Likewise, the longer Ming "works" for the law, the more he wishes to reform. Yet as they face surmounting pressure from both sides, they cannot readily renounce their fake identities to reveal their true ones. Both yearn for a real and new life, rebirth away from the continuous hell they go through. Working inside out, the two moles work towards opposite ends, till they eventually cross paths in confrontation, falling into the abyss of deeper living hell. What lies after the battles is the tormenting hell of guilt.

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Mahaparinirvana Sutra Verse 19:

"The worst of the Eight Hells is called Continuous (Avici) Hell ( 间地狱 / 阿鼻地狱).
It has the meaning of Continuous Suffering. Thus the name."

That was quoted in the opening sequence of Infernal Affairs I.
In Infernal Affairs II, we see the following words (also "abbreviated" in Chinese):

"Avici : No time, No space, No remission (interruption/ relief/ cessation)"

In Avici Hell, time does not seem to pass because there is no change of experience through relief of suffering. And space does not seem to exist as one's being fills it completely. There is no "break" of suffering for a single instant for kalpas (duration of world cycles) till one's unwholesome karma is exhausted.

Avici Hell: Continuous Hell; Hell Without Interval; Hell of Incessant Suffering

More about Nature of Hell in Buddhism:
More about Nature of Avici Hell below:

The opening and closing sutra sequences in Infernal Affaris I & II are grim warnings and reminders of the karmic destinies of many of the characters in the trilogy, telling of the hellish lives they lead through self and mutual deceit, fear and hatred, leaving us to speculate how much more hellish it will be in their afterlife. "Infernal" in the title relates to the fiendish and diabolical punishment of burning- in the hell of guilt. It links with the Chinese title which refers to Avici Hell, where those born there suffer the torture of burning. This parallels the two key characters' lives, as they live with unbearable pressure in the dark.

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"Whoever earns by this means (crime and gangsterism) will one day have to pay back some day." This was uttered by the drug kingpin, Ngiam Kwun, whose face we do not see, murdered by the wife of a trusted partner in crime. This ominous statement of karma echoes throughout the show. His assassination triggers a new era of power-struggle between the triads and the police, increasing each's suspicion of the other's moves and intentions, day in and out. The supposed status, wealth and power coveted through bloodbaths are never truly enjoyed by the gangsters as they face the constant threat of being killed by enemies and traitors. With bodyguards always hovering around, these "human-asuras" (demi-gods) live lives of jealousy, hatred and tension, seemingly only anxiously bracing for the moment karmic payback catches up. Unknowingly, they further trap themselves with their evil deeds, circling deeper into living hell. Thus does Mary (Carina Lau), wife of triad boss Sam (Eric Tsang), say to Ming (Edison Chen), "Ever since Ngiam Hao (Francis Ng- sucessor of the late kingpin) has been in power for these 4 years, not a single night have I had a good rest."

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The law-enforcers themselves were not innocent of scheming, going to the extent of breaking the law to uphold the law. Their job was to make the streets safe from the overwhelming triads. With this in mind, Inspector Wong (Anthony Wong) tries all means to tame the triads. His aspiration may be noble but as he masterminds the assassination of the late kingpin in hope of gaining an upper hand, he unwittingly caused more deaths, including that of his best friend, SP Luk (Hu Jun). The idea of killing one to save many might be noble, but the consequences was hell unleashed. Being unenlightened, we do not possess perfect judgement of the workings of the complicated law of cause and effect- every little thing we do leads to chain reactions- for better or for worse. Inspector Wong was blinded by the 3 poisons- ignorant of the consequences of his action, thinking he could control the gangsters. He was possibly greedy of the power to manipulate them, yet guilty of hatred of the evil done by them and himself. In fighting monsters, he had become one. Hell is afterall, self-inflicted. The demons that torment oneself both in this life and the next are always one's own.

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At the end of the first instalment, Ming experiences further entry into continous living hell after the sudden death of Yan. He has to live alone with the guilt of his dark past. This is personal hell indeed- a burden of the conscience only he can experience and bear. We see the rise and fall of the underground powers, clearly demonstrating the impermanent (anicca) volatile nature of gain and loss. Delusion led to greed for power, leading to hatred and bloodshed. If Sam's laughter and celebration after the bloody feuds in the second instalment have secret tears of loss and guilt behind the door, where is the real joy? Seeing the two shows reminded me of the curious question of why anyone should choose the life of a gangster. There's nothing cool or gamourous at all below the surface. Indeed, what's the point of living dangerously when it IS hell? Life on the edge is horrendous, hell already- one can fall any time into deeper hell. In not unleashing hell in this life for others, we spare ourselves of hell in our next life. May all the world's criminals walk the Middle Path instead. | | stills from 

More About Avici Hell
from "The Sutra of Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha's Fundamental Vows":

 "As long as the Hells are not empty, I will not attain Buddhahood."

...The Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha then addressed the Holy Mother, saying, "In southern Jambudvipa, the retribution for various sins is as follows: If someone should fail to fulfill his filial duty toward his parents or, at worst, kill or harm them, he will fall into Avici Hell, where he will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release. If someone should shed the blood of a Buddha, ridicule the Three Jewels or fail to respect the sutras, he, also, will fall into Avici Hell, where he will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release. If someone should encroach upon or steal the property of some Buddhist establishment, slander bhiksus or bhiksunis, indulge his carnal lust in a sangharama, or kill or harm others, then he or she will fall into Avici Hell and remain there for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release. If someone should pretend to be a sramana and yet actually is not one at heart, but, on the contrary, abuses the establishment, cheats the laity, violates the precepts and commits all kinds of evil, such a person will fall into Avici Hell, where he or she will remain for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release. If someone should steal from the establishment any property at all-grain, rice, other food or clothing-or take any kind of article whatsoever without permission, he or she will fall into Avici Hell and remain there for thousands of myriads of millions of kalpas without a date for release."

Ksitigarbha concluded, saying, "O Holy Mother (Lady Maya, who was the Buddha's Mother), anyone committing such sins will certainly fall into Avici Hell, where he will suffer incessantly, without remission for even one instant."

Lady Maya addressed Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha again, asking him, "What is that hell known as Avici?"

"Firstly, the punishment is meted out day and night, kalpa after kalpa, without a moment's interruption or relief. Thus Avici.

"Secondly, one person can fill it completely, and many people also can fill it completely. Thus Avici.

"Thirdly, there is punishment using such devices as forks, clubs, hawks, serpents, jackals, hounds, mills, grinders, saws, chisels, files, choppers, boiling pots, iron nets and cords, and iron mules and horses. Other hideous tortures and punishments force these miserable beings to cover their heads with their own skin after being flayed alive, after which hot molten iron is poured onto their bodies; and when they are hungry they are forced to swallow chunks of iron and drink molten iron when thirsty. This unimaginably horrible torture goes on and continues throughout years and kalpas numbering in nayutas. In this manner they suffer continuously with no cessation whatsoever. Thus Avici.

"Fourthly, irrespective of whether these sinners are male or female, barbarian or civilized, whether young or old, noble or mean, whether nagas or gods, devas or ghosts-all will receive the retribution of sinful karma. Thus Avici.

"Fifthly, if a person falls into this hell, he will die myriads of times and be revived myriads of times each day and each night from the time of his initial entrance unto hundreds of thousands of future kalpas, and he will never have any relief or rest whatsoever from his suffering and torture even for one instant. It is only with the exhaustion of his sinful karma that he will finally be able to gain rebirth. Owing to such continuity of suffering and torture, this hell is, therefore, known as Avici."

Then Ksitigarbha addressed the Holy Mother, saying, "Avici Hell, roughly speaking, is just as I have described it to you. To completely and exhaustively describe the torture devices, the punishment and the hideous suffering there could not be done even if one were to talk as long as one kalpa."

Having heard this, Queen Lady Maya was saddened. She made obeisance with palms joined and withdrew...