The 59th London Film Festival: Assassination

A genius storyteller for his spectacular ability to develop elaborate stories, someone once said about  Choi Dong-hoon, one of the most successful South Korean film directors in modern Korean cinema. All his five productions, The Big Swindle (2004), Tazza: The High Roller (2006), Jeon Woo-chi: The Taoist Wizard (2009), The Thieves (2012) and his latest hit Assassination (2015) have became a profitable success.


Assassination is Choi Dong-hoon’s first period drama which is set against the harsh background of the 1930s Japan’s colonial rule of Korea. In 1933, the provisional Korean government sends the order to assassinate Kawaguchi Mamoru (Shim Cheol-jong), the governor of the Japanese armed forces as well as Kang In-gook (Lee Geung-young), a wicked pro Japanese Korean business mogul who isn’t afraid to murder his own family in return for power. A secret agent, Yeom Seok-jin (Lee Young-jae), is set to find a perfect team that would be able to carry out the given task. He travels to China, where most of the Korean resistant fighters are hiding, and gathers a group of professional killers; Ahn Ok-yun (Jun Ji-hyun), a first class sniper, Chu Sang-ok (Cho Jin-woong) and Chu’s friend, Hwang Deok-sam, an expert in explosives. Alas, Yeom has a hidden agenda of his own as he hires two other assassins to get rid of the team he chose; Hawaii Pistol (Hwa Jung-woo) and Old Man (Oh Dal-su). Unfortunately, nothing goes according to plans and both teams are forced to improvise, particularly Ok-yun. She is desperate to complete her task and bravely enters a dragon’s den without knowing what might happen next. From this point onwards the film’s action is in full swing.

The core narrative of the film is an interesting one simply because it goes well with the background stories of the main protagonists. Choi Dong-hoon didn’t fully concentrate on the political issue of 1930 Korea but focused on a human side of the Japanese-Korean conflict. Having said that, Assassination contains way too many characters and locations which cause confusion and slightly complicates the film. The pace of the movie and action scenes are great, however the dialogue is repetitive at times and the final scene is unprepossessing and too predictable. In terms of acting, Choi chose popular actors Lee Young-jae and Jun Ji-hyun – who have already acted together in his previous film Thieves – Hwa Yung-woo, who also starred with Jun Ji-hyun in Ryu Seung- wan’s Berlin File, as well as Oh Dal-su, known for his roles in Thieves, Oldboy, Veteran and Ode to My Father.


Lee Young-jaes portrayal of Yeom, a double agent, was impeccable. Even though it was a supporting role and he had limited time in the film, he still managed to deliver it well with natural and effortless acting. He is one of those versatile actors who could be easily placed in the same bucket with Choi Min-sik or Hwang Jung-min. Whenever Lee Young-jae is in a film, it is almost guaranteed that it will be an entertaining one. The bifarious performance by Jun Ji-hyun was engaging and striking; a very likable character though not the best behaved one. To the audience, Jun is known for her ability to adjust to various demanding and complex roles in films, and it wasn’t different this time either. She grabs the audiences’ attention straight away and with her kickass physicality she brings a great balance to Assassination when it comes to amusement as well as the seriousness of the film topic. She receives great support from Hwa Jung-woo as well Choi Jin-woong whose performances were equally good. However, it is hard to judge Jung-woo’s acting in full as he has been starring in films where he portrays strong minded and tough individuals non-stop. It feels as though he hasn’t been able to move to another, perhaps, more complex character yet. His acting is impressive but the monotony of his leading roles have become tiring.

Production set was competently designed by the renowned designer Seong-hie Rye. The same goes to the costume designer Jo Sang-geong (Oldboy) as well as the cinematographer Kim Woo-hyung (Late Autumn). The action scenes were well staged by Yun Sang-seop, who previously worked on Thieves and The Chaser. The whole production team definitely deserves an applause for its effort.  Obviously, there are good and bad sides to the film, however Assassination is an entertaining production and surely worth seeing it on the big screen.

Rating: 4-stars

Written by Maggie Gogler

All photos © Assassination & Showbox

One Comment Add yours

  1. Peter Makres says:

    Assassination is truly an excellent film. As this review points out, the narrative is a bit complex, and I’ve watched the film several times now to fully absorb it. The acting is excellent, the action scenes are intense and very well staged. The sound quality on the Blu-ray disc is superb. Highly recommended.

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