Current events in the West add a chilling, cautionary perspective to this documentary about the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, brother of North Korean dictator and basketball fan Kim Jong-un.
The film opens with CCTV footage apparently showing two women, Siti Aisyah and Đoàn Thị Hương, attacking the North Korean exile with a deadly nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It then patiently pulls back the curtain to advocate the innocence of the Vietnamese and Indonesian suspects, who believed themselves to be filming a prank show for Japanese or Chinese TV.
This adds an absurd comedic element to a case with all the elements of a plot which, if used in a thriller, would probably be deemed implausible: a man called Mr Y, a Pop Idol contestant, seditious trips to Disneyland… It’s impressive, then, that director Ryan White maintains such a consistently sober tone, avoiding the True Crime sensationalism that has seeped into all manner of inappropriate discourse.
Aside from an overwrought, unrelenting electronic score, the film deals squarely in facts (rare in itself at the moment) while eliciting a natural empathy for the young women in such extraordinary circumstances. Through recorded interviews, courtroom tapes and input from their families, White balances the legal, political and human sides of the story with a refreshingly even tone.
Assassins is a valuable piece of scrutiny of a government getting away with murder at the same time as being increasingly accepted by the international community. It’s a startling glimpse into a fascinating case, and a country whose political system is the envy of the American Right.
Assassins is released on Dogwoof on demand and other digital platforms on 29th January 2021.
Watch the trailer for Assassins here: