There is a lot for me to explore in cinema as there are tons of films I still need to see, including those of director Choi Dong-hoon. That said, his latest 1930’s-set war drama, Assassination is very much an introduction to his craft for my own experience as a moviegoer, and there are a ton of moving pieces to this story as it’s full of twists and turns that are sure to keep your attention.
The film begins with as Yim (Lee Jung-Jae), a Korean rebel whose failed assassination attempt of a Japanese general leads to his capture and torture prior to having reportedly escaped within an inch of his life. Years later, he is now an interim agent for the incognito Korean government, and is assigned by the vice-president and his cohorts to assemble a team of assassins to mobilize in Shanghai. The team is comprised of Dak-sun (Choi Deok-Mun) – an eccentric explosives expert, Chu Song-ok (Cho Jin-Woong) – a reluctant comrade who can always use more motivation, and Anh Okyun (Gianna Jun) – a Korean sniper in jail for insubordination in Manchuria.
Their plan is to take out the general and his partners before the launch of a major airplane factory that could provide in bombing capabilities for the Japanese. With the plan ironed out, it is not too long before we meet other players in the field, including two contract killers – Hawaii Pistol (Ha Jung-Woo) and Yonggam (Oh Dal-Su), assigned to sabotage their mission. As time passes, hidden agendas become much clearer and incidentally endanger the teams’ lives, setting in motion a chain of events that will soon trigger a chain of events that span what was once a simple mission into a journey of self discovery in the wake of Anh’s turmoil when she not only discovers who she is, but just how instrumental she will be in fulfilling the mission.
As I wrote earlier, this film mitigates a lot of moving parts, but there particular relationships between certain characters that make this one quite fun. Choi, Cho and Oh all deliver fruitful moments of silliness from time to time, especially the latter whose character comes in just at the right time when things get thick for a few of our other protagonists. I also enjoyed the subtext between the roles of Jun and Ha who bounce off of each other quite nicely throughout the constant flux of their courtship while Jun also shares a bit of screentime with actor Lee Geung-young in the role of Kang In-guk, another key role in preseting the terms for the rest of the intricate story and one to surely keep an eye on right down to the end.
More important to bear in mind are the roles of Jun and Lee as their characters develop, with Lee‘s role being one of the more tonally influential among the characters. In addition and with regard to Jun‘s performances, each plot twist uncovers something more interesting for the rest of the movie to feed off of. Point in fact, Jun‘s delivery is one of the most effective and pivotal throughout the film, and its no wonder why she’s such a favorite among Asian film fanatics.
The action sequences are sprawling with explosive gun battles and car chases. Most of it is textbook, but it will keep you engaged with each scene turning the page for all the characters arcs and subplots that occur. In that respect, you never know if the main bad guys will get their just desserts, but there a few villains you simply just love to hate who eventually meet their poetic demise which is quite satisfying.
Director Choi is much more geared here to materialize something much more character driven. It’s just as exciting and intriguing a film as Hong Kong action auteur Tsui Hark’s latest, The Taking Of Tiger Mountain, but not so jingoistic and nature, and keeps the focus of the film where it needs to be. Sharing the set with key cast members who have worked with him before, particularly on the 2012 ensemble caper, The Thieves, proves effective in creating a magnificent drama deep-in-scope with an adherance to internal conflict and self-realization to accomapny the suspense and danger that lurks.
Deception, lies, espionage, romance, bloodlust and redemption are the ingredients stirred about here in Assassination, a film you could say takes its cues from movies like the 2008 film, Valkyrie; No, I don’t necessarily know if Choi saw this film as his motivation, but I do know that World War II always sets the precedent for great cinema, and as such, Assassination is a delightful sum of all its parts!
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