South Korean film “Assassination” wants to juggle lots of things at once. Besides attempting a busy mix of action and comedy in the context of history drama, it shuffles between many various characters bound to converge on a certain point for its expected payoff moment. This could be entertaining if “Assassination” were more balanced and focused. Due to the lack of the central narrative momentum to support its sprawling plot, the movie fails to generate enough energy between its characters who are simply moved here and there as demanded by plot mechanism. It is incoherent and overlong with many plot holes, and I could just admire its good elements which are not utilized well to my dissatisfaction.
Its story revolves around one fictional assassination attempt planned by the leaders of Korean Independence movement as another act of resistance against the Japanese Occupation. It is 1933, and Kim Koo (Kim Hong-pa), the highly respected head of the Korean interim government in Shanghai who is incidentally one of a few real-life figures in the film, decides it is the time for another assassination operation against Japan, so he instructs Yeom Seok-jin (Lee Jeong-jae) to recruit suitable people to carry out this dangerous mission.
Secretly going around China, Seok-jin quickly gathers three members for the mission: Rapid-fire (Jo Jin-woong), Hwang Deok-sam (Choi Deok-moon), and Ahn Ok-yoon (Gianna Jun). As reflected by his name, Rapid-fire is a rambunctious guy with considerable military background, Deok-sam is an explosive expert who happens to escape from prison along with Rapid-fire, and Ok-yoon is a skilled sharpshooter with remarkable precision and efficiency.
Their targets are two men heavily involved in the ongoing Japanese occupation of Korea. One is the Commander of the Japanese occupation force in Korea, and the other one is Kang In-gook (Lee Kyeong-yong), a wealthy Korean business man who has closely collaborated with Japan for many years. As shown during the prologue scene set in 1911, this despicable traitor of his country is willing to do anything to protect his beneficial relationship with Japan, and now his young daughter is going to marry the Commander’s son shortly after she returns to her home in Gyeongseong (it is the old name of Seoul during that period, by the way). Around that time, there will certainly be a chance for assassinating the Commander and In-gook at once.
Everything seems to be ready for the assassination team members when they leave for Seoul after holding a small ceremony for their mission (watching them being photographed along with their written resolutions, you may be reminded that they are regarded as terrorists by their enemies), but there is a problem which will jeopardize the whole operation. A spy inside Kim Koo’s inner circle informs Japanese authorities of the assassination plan and then hires a Korean guy nicknamed Hawaii Pistol (Ha Jeong-woo), one of the most fearful bounty hunters in the town. Hawaii Pistol accepts the request with no hesitation because he is told that his targets to be eliminated are traitors, and he also leaves for Seoul with his loyal sidekick Old Man (Oh Dal-soo).
Right after arriving in Gyeongsong, Ok-yoon and her two comrades work further on their assassination plan while Hawaii Pistol is tracking them down step by step. As their D-day is coming, Japanese authorities become more watchful especially after receiving the information on the assassination plan, and, for a reason I will not reveal to you at any chance, the situation becomes more complicated when In-gook’s daughter finally arrives in Gyeongseong.
Besides a number of well-made action sequences including the vehicle action scene reminiscent of Indiana Jones movies, “Assassination” has several surprise plot turns, but the movie is too busy with handling its individual plotlines to pay enough attention to the development of characters or their interactions. The story merely moves through predictable plot points especially during the second act, and then it comes to lose more of its steam as the characters’ circumstance becomes more serious during the third act. The movie tries hard with a lot of bullets and explosions during what is supposed to be its grand finale, but this part is deficient in dramatic impact due to the scattershot treatment of story and characters, and the movie ultimately feels dragged as eventually arriving at its lackluster epilogue sequence set in 1949.
Anyway, the movie is impressive in technical aspects. The cinematography by Kim Woo-hyeong effectively generates the stylish period mood taking us to Shanghai and Gyeongseong during the 1930s, and the production design and costumes in the film are gorgeous to say the least. I particularly enjoyed the scenes looking around the sumptuous interior of a big, luxurious department store located in the downtown area of Gyeonseong, and I also liked a lively bar dance scene in which Ok-yoon loses herself a bit along with her comrades and other customers.
The actors are well-cast in their respective roles, though they are not used well in most cases. Gianna Jun is believable as a tough, beautiful woman determined to accomplish her mission by any means necessary, and it is rather a shame that the movie does not delve more into the situation in which her character unexpectedly faces her old past. While exuding his dependable star presence, Ha Jeong-woo mostly stays on neutral mode, and Lee Jeong-jae has his own moments as an activist who becomes involved in the assassination plan more than he initially expected. Jo Jin-woong and Oh Dal-soo are fun to watch in their enjoyable supporting performances, and you may notice other notable South Korean actors including Choi Deok-moon, Lee Kyeong-yeong, Kim Ee-seong, Jo Seung-woo, and Kim Hae-sook.
Although “Assassination” is not a total failure, but this is two or three steps down from the director Choi Dong-hoon’s previous films “Tazza: the High Rollers” (2006) and “The Thieves” (2012), which have more fun and excitement in comparison. I was not that bored, but I was not interested enough while trying to hold onto its rambling plot. There were too many shooters, and I only watched with no particular care to anyone.
Have you seen Day of the Jackal?
SC: Yes. It is a very good thriller.