For many, the name Kim Jong Un is infamous. But his elder brother and once-heir to the leadership of North Korea, Kim Jong-Nam might be unfamiliar. Assassins uncovers the story of the two women involved in the assassination of Kim Jong Nam at the Kuala Lumpur airport in February of 2017.

While his assassination was splashed across hundreds of international newspapers, the truth and conspiracy behind his death took years to uncover. With Director Ryan White (The Case Against 8, The Keepers) at the helm, the documentary plays out in chronological order. From the events leading up to Kim Jong Nam’s exile from North Korea to the day he was killed by a deadly nerve agent, to the day of the trial for the perpetrators.
At the center of this case are two young women: Siti Aisyah and Đoàn Thị Hương. In a story that spans from North Korea to Malaysia to Indonesia to Vietnam to China, Assassins feels thorough as it seeks to find the true perpetrator of the crime after arriving at the conclusion that Aisyah and Hương are scapegoats to a larger plot.

As a documentary, Assassins does everything right. There are lighter moments sprinkled in between a truly serious and, at times, devastating tale. The case has the makings of a spy drama, with conspiracies and injustices abound. But what I found particularly compelling was following Aisyah and Hương and learning of their recruitment. As 20-somethings in Indonesia and Vietnam respectively, the two women were merely regular people.

Asiyah moved to the city for a job and regularly sent money home to her family, while Hương had dreams of becoming an actress. Exploited by conspirators who preyed on their weaknesses and offered them good money to appear on a prank show, it’s heart breaking to see what comes at the cost of taking up an opportunity.

After their trials and during their imprisonment, the two confided and befriended one another, finding comfort in the connection and understanding that only the two of them could share. It’s hard to walk away from Assassins without feeling outrage. Outrage at a society that turned Aisyah and Hương into victims. Outrage at the evils of a totalitarian government that is able to hide its perpetrators away. Outrage at a legal system that will never find justice enough to satisfy.

Guaranteed to pique the interest of its viewers, Assassins will enlighten Western viewers, especially for those who barely registered the assassination of Kim Jong Nam and shed light on the harrowing and intriguing events surrounding it.

Director: Ryan White
Company: Tripod Media
Category: Documentary Premieres

Rating: ★★★★☆

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