Review: Assassination (암살)

Film poster courtesy of Show Box
Film poster courtesy of Show Box

I’m a sucker for action films so as soon as I heard that Assassination (암살) was coming, I made plans to go see it. There’s something about summer action blockbusters – and Assassination is such a film – that puts me in alt. Add to the fact that it’s directed by Choi Dong Hoon (최동훈), who also directed The Thieves (도둑들) and Tazza: The High Rollers (타짜), both of which I loved, let’s just say that I had high expectations.


Set mainly during the 1930s, the Korean provisional government sends a three person assassination team consisting of a female sniper, a demolition expert and a military school graduate to take out two men in Seoul to weaken the Japanese. Unfortunately, they are double-crossed and a pair of contract killers are sent after them. And that’s just the start of the action and drama…

My Thoughts

The film opens in 1911 with a brief prologue that both introduces some of the main characters but also helps explain why they are the way they are during the main part of the film, set in the 1930s. Here, we meet the evil businessman, Kang In Gook, played with creepy coldness by Lee Kyoung Young (이경영) and Yem Seok Jin, played so well by Lee Jung Jae (이정재) that you’ll end up with missed feelings about him. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.

Fast forward to the 1930s and we meet Yem again as he’s asked by the Korean provisional government in Shanghai to recruit three freedom fighters unknown to the Japanese to undertake a secret assassination of a Japanese military leader who’s responsible for some horrific crimes against the Koreans and Kang In Gook, who’s made a fortune collaborating with the Japanese. Yem recruits (all from various prisons) military school graduate Big Gun, played by Cho Jin Woong (조진웅), explosives expert Duk Sam, played by Choi Deok Moon (최덕문) and Korean Independence Army sniper Ahn Okyun, played beautifully by Gianna Jun (전지현), and sends them on their way to Seoul.

Of course, nothing is that simple. Yem is a double agent and informs the Japanese of the plot while hiring Hawaiian Pistol (love the name), a contract killer played by Ha Jung Woo (하정우) and his partner Buddy, played by Oh Dal Soo (오달수) under false pretenses to kill the three freedom fighters. Add into the mix a wedding, some family drama, more double crossing, cool car chases… and you got a summer blockbuster.

Along with lots of action and a few lighter funny moments – Okyun drinking coffee for the first time comes to mind – the film moves from Shanghai to Seoul as the trio seek to fulfill their mission. There is lots of plot twists – and killing – some of which you will expect/see coming and some will surprise you I’m sure. The large cast of characters – although for me, Yem, Okyun and Hawaiian Pistol are the primary ones – twists and double crosses help supplement the action to keep the audience engaged. 

I don’t often talk about the costumes but they were beautiful and definitely helped create and define the scenes. The cinematography and set design was also well done – the department store in particular was lovely.

Speaking of the department store, that was an interesting place to tie together the story lines of assassination and twins separated at birth. I was mildly surprised at how easily Mitsuko, also played by Gianna Jun, accepted Okyun as her sister but before I could barely form that thought, the unthinkable happened. Yeah, this was one of the few plot twists that was totally expected – come on, there’s no way you didn’t realize the twins were going to meet – but the outcome went from lighthearted reunion to brutal violence in a way that was so ruthless it was a bit of a shock (I jumped). And it wasn’t the only time there was an instance of violence that was both unexpected and acted as a turning point in the story. In fact, there were several acts of violence – some of them seemingly random – which were pivotal to how a character behaved next. Interesting that.

So I’ve talked a lot about what I liked – the action, the double crosses and twists, the acting and the costumes/setting – but there were a few elements I didn’t. The ending, or perhaps more appropriately labeled the ‘epilogue’ which was a trial of Yem set in the late 1940s was the only part of the film that seemed out of sequence or unnecessary for me. It tied things too neatly, the ending was too pat. That such a speech could effect the courtroom’s opinion of a traitor so strongly was a little unbelievable but otherwise, it was an entertaining and well-acted film.

My final criticism is my normal dislike of crappy subtitles. How can a film be released in theatres with typos in the subs? I understand that it can happen with a not-yet-released film screening at a film festival but one that is playing at several theatres across North America. There’s no reason for such sloppiness. One of my Korean friends also mentioned that there were some translation errors as well, although I didn’t notice that as much (her Korean is much better than mine ^^). Okay, the subs weren’t horrible – I’ve seen worse – but they were a bit distracting at times.

Final Thoughts

It’s a good, solid summer action film that’s well-acted with a large cast and lots of double-crossing to keep you on your toes. A bit brutal at times with some seriously evil bad guys (who will manage to shock you a couple of times), a couple of bad-good guys (who you might feel sorry for) and some good-bad guys (who you’ll end up rooting for). Plus it rocks to have such a kick ass female lead played beautifully by Gianna Jun. 

Have you seen Assassination? What did you think of it?

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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