Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Movie Review: "Assassins" (2020)

Movie poster for the 2020 documentary "Assassins"
Image Source
Director: Ryan White
Year: 2020
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

In February 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, was murdered in broad daylight in an airport in Malaysia. He was killed with a chemical nerve agent called VX, one of the deadliest nerve agents in the world. It instantly became international news, even more so when it was discovered that his killers were two young women in their 20s. BigJ and I didn't know much about this new story beyond these few facts. The women accused of the assassination were Siti Aisyah of Indonesia and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam. They were caught on CCTV cameras at Kuala Lumpur International airport, rubbing a substance on Kim Jong-nam's face right before walking away from the scene.

It seems like an open and shut case, right?

Doan Thi Huong and Siti Aisyah mugshot photos from the 2020 movie "Assassins"
Doan Thi Huong and Siti Aisyah mugshot photos from the 2020 movie "Assassins." (Image Source)

Ryan White's documentary "Assassins" (2020) digs deeper into the story of the two women who purportedly assassinated the half-brother of one of the most notorious leaders of one of the most mysterious countries in the world. Siti Aisyah grew up impoverished in Indonesia and had to drop out of school at a young age to begin working. She eventually came to Malaysia with the hopes of finding a job to earn money for her family, though she wound up being employed as a sex worker. Doan took a different path to Malaysia as she had aspirations of becoming an actress. She even had a short and somewhat embarrassing stint on Malaysia's version of "American Idol." The ultimate question this documentary seeks to answer is how did these two women from different countries and different backgrounds who had never met each other both wind up carrying out the assassination of Kim Jong-nam on the same day at the same airport? Were they really just cold-blooded killers, or were they unwitting pawns duped into an accidental assassination by agenda-driven secret agents from North Korea? The latter choice sounds almost too wild to be true.

Ryan White explores the overwhelming evidence showing that, despite its immense improbability, that is precisely what happened to Siti and Doan. These two random strangers were set up months in advance to take the fall for Kim Jong-nam's murder so that Kim Jong-un could not be implicated by the international community in the assassination. Perhaps the worst part of this ordeal is that the country of Malaysia was willing to let these women take the fall, all so it could maintain a strong political relationship with North Korea. It's downright despicable that the lives of these two women meant so little that two entire countries were prepared to let them go down for a crime they didn't commit all to service the cold, calculated manipulations of men craving to please their master.

CCTV footage from the murder of Kim Jong-nam from the documentary film "Assassins"
CCTV footage from the murder of Kim Jong-nam from the documentary film "Assassins." (Image Source)

Since we had not followed this case beyond the initial news report, "Assassins" (2020) gripped us from start to finish. We sat in awe as attorneys and journalists poured over the evidence in the case and the politics surrounding it. It's a comprehensive documentary full of an abundance of background information, as well as unexpected twists and turns. Everything that happens feels like it was ripped right out of the screenplay of a spy movie, one that you might think was too unrealistic if you didn't know it was true. "Assassins" (2020) is absolutely worth watching, especially if you're not familiar with this international case. We found it to be as compelling as any fictional crime thriller. It's one of the best documentaries we've seen this year.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: ~7.5/10
RT Rating: ~100%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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