Movie #116 2021: Assassins (2020)

Good. God. I can’t recall the last time I was so shocked by a documentary. This is a story that you have to see to really believe. And even then, you may not quite believe the craziness of what you’ve just witnessed. The fact that the topic of this documentary is completely true is bloody mind-boggling, and I knew I had to watch it even before it was released.

Assassins comes from director Ryan White who also directed The Keepers; a documentary on Netflix about a nun whose murder is linked to the fact that she uncovered the child abuse of a priest in her diocese. Why did I tell you that? Because that is proof enough that his films are hard-hitting and wild. This is no different. Assassins tell the story of the murder of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s brother, Kim Jong-nam. Sounds simple… but it’s far from it. The two girls convicted as the murderers explain why they did what they did… and it turns out, both of them thought they were part of a YouTube prank show. You read that correctly. Neither of the girls were aware that they were actually carrying a deathly chemical on their hands that was able to kill a target within minutes… or were they?

Wow. If the “plot” of Assassins was part of a fictional thriller movie, people would slate it because of how unrealistic it was. And yet…

What Ryan White does phenomenally well is explore and explain the background surrounding this case, right down to the family tree of the North Korean totalitarian regime. If you knew relatively nothing about the dictatorship beforehand, you’ll certainly understand the basics by the end. He doesn’t just delve straight in to the assassination, but he ensures that the viewers really understand the reasoning behind it before laying out these extraordinary events. This is a truly educational documentary that just so happens to come alongside a unique, emotional and baffling story. 

The best thing about Assassins for me though was how utterly gripping it was. It’s a completely fascinating story, told with a mixture of interviews, witness testimony, audio from court hearings and some brilliant recreations of scenes using animation. Though the sum of its parts make it altogether similar to many other documentaries, this one is expertly made and nothing is superfluous. Every element contributes wholly to its end product, and that is one of the best thing about it.

On top of all that, you have the mind-bending, almost unbelievable story. I swear this documentary was more dramatic and scary to watch than a lot of fictional movies. The fact that it actually happened is extremely disturbing, and White does his job very well by presenting a well-rounded, comprehensive and detailed retelling of the facts whilst making you feel completely terrified that this genuinely could have happened to anyone.

As I’ve already mentioned, it’s not entirely different from any other documentary in terms of how it’s made, but Ryan White took a fascinating story and ran with it. It’s a story that deserves to be told and overall acts as a stark warning to the entire world.

And to anyone who says “I could have just read this on Wikipedia”: why would you want to do that? This is much more effective.

Assassins is available to stream on Sky Documentaries in the UK.

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