Director: Choi Dong-hoon
Cast: Gianna Jun, Ha Jung-woo, Lee Jung-jae, Oh Dal-soo, Cho Jin-woong, Choi Deok-moon
Runtime: 2 hrs 20 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Violence)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 17 September 2015
Synopsis: Snipers. Marksmen. Hired guns. Double agents. A group of exiled rebels are planning a hit on an Army Commander in Japanese-occupied Korea, but the only killer for the job is in prison. Now, the Resistance must devise a jailbreak, break out a hitman... and discover which of them is a traitor.
Choi Dong-hoon’s Assassination is yet another star-studded follow-up to his immensely entertaining heist blockbuster, The Thieves. This time round instead of a fancy contemporary title, Choi turned his attention on a period thriller and the action is shifted to 1933 Gyeongseongduring the Japanese occupation of Korea.
The gist of Assassination without the need for a spoiler warning tag focused on a mission to kill a ruthless Japanese General Kawaguchi and his equally ruthless Korean business tycoon alliance, Kang In-gook. The leader of the exiled Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, Yem (Lee Jeong-jae) is tasked to form a motley crew to take down the targets. Sniper also the Captain of the trio, Ahn Ok-yun (Gianna Jun), explosives specialist Duk-sam (Choi Duk-moon) and ‘Big Gun’ (Cho Jin-woong) are thus assigned to travel to Korea from Shanghai to carry out the mission.
The setup is actually pretty easy to follow at least for the second hour or so but unfortunately, helmer Choi who also co-wrote the story stuffed the first 60 minutes with too many characters, an unnecessary time jump (switching between 1911 to 1945 and back to 1933) and subplots that you probably need a notebook to jot down the little details. Besides the three protagonists, there’s also a hired killer dubbed Hawaii Pistol (Ha Jung-woo) and his cigar-chomping associate, Old Man (Oh Dal-su) that is being hired to eliminate the trio. Are the duo another bunch of exiled independence fighters or are they simply opportunity seekers? And how trustworthy is our highly praised resistance fighter Yem?
Apart from the above-mentioned flaws, Choi keeps everything moving at a breezy pace and he knows how to up the tension as the minute passes. There are plenty of plot twists ranging from dubious character motivations to double-crossing etc. Without revealing further, there’s even an emotional turmoil for Gianna Jun’s character just when you thought the movie had reached its climax.
Clearly, Assassination is blessed with a handsome budget. From the neatly dressed sets of Shanghai Film Studio (featured famously in movies such as Lust Caution to Kungfu Hustle) to a gigantic built set in Korea, production and costume design is never an issue here. On top of it, Choi delivered many heart-pounding action sequences that will make Hong Kong action maestro John Woo proud. A standout sequence definitely belonged to Jun’s balletic display of gunplay while jumping from one rooftop to another. The final sequence taking place in a grand departmental store which featured more explosions and gunfire is yet another technical achievement.
Despite being an all-so serious historical piece that proudly wear patriotism on its sleeves, Choi never forgets to inject some humor to it. Duk-sam, ‘Big Gun’ and Old Man are mainly the few colourful characters that constantly keep the audience tickling with their wry dose of humour (anyone keen on why pigs are castrated?). Coming off from the success of her hit TV drama serial My Love from the Star, Gianna Jun has an incredible star presence playing a character with a tragic past. This explains why she is tasked to carry the movie on her shoulder. Though she has very little screentime opposite her co-star from The Thieves, Lee Jeong-jae, the latter did a respectable job playing a character you loved to hate while Ha Jung-woo’s character is too thinly written and hardly memorable.
The topic of resistance fighters rallying against the notorious Japanese army in the World World II era hardly qualifies as new. But Choi Dong-hoon’s bullets filled espionage action thriller will keep you all tensed, entertained and clamouring for more.
(Undeniably the must watch Korea movie of the year!)
Review by Linus Tee