Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Assassination: Gianna Jun Hits the Bullseye

Judging from Ahn Okyun’s experiences, the Korean resistance was a lot like the French underground. Traitors from within were a far greater threat than efforts to root them out. In fact, the greatest threat to her mission comes from the turncoat who recruited her in the first place in Choi Dong-hoon’s Assassination (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Ahn was born in Korea, but she never lived there. Her nanny managed to save her when her collaborating dog of a father had her loyalist mother killed. She grew up as part of the free Korean diaspora, becoming a sniper in the Korean Independence Army, despite her spectacles. In contrast, her twin sister lived a life of luxury bought and paid for with blood money. Never really knowing her father, she has no reservations about assassinating him. Hopefully, she will also be able to take out Kawaguchi, the local Japanese commander, who happens to be responsible for the death of her adopted mother.

To complicate matters, Captain Yem, the supposed hero of the provisional government is actually working with the Japanese to undermine the plot he was ordered to launch. Initially, he entrusts the job to a notorious outlaw known as Hawaii Pistol, but the gun-for-hire is about to have his Casablanca moment. Remember that bit about Ahn being a twin? It will be significant.

Fifty-one different flavors of vintage firearms were used in the making of Assassination, which should instill confidence in its action scenes—and rightly so. Even though Choi’s screenplay is chocked full of Shakespearean elements—betrayal, grudges, twins separated by circumstances—the action quota and body count are closer to old school John Woo. It is sort of like Melville’s Army of Night, but with all the existential angst replaced with adrenaline-charged shootouts.

Action director Yu Sang-seop pulls out all the stops down the stretch, delivering a centerpiece spectacle that is truly a thing of beautiful carnage. The entire third act is a non-stop ballet of gunfire, but Choi ends it with some stone cold operatic payback. This is the kind of film that turns fans onto Asian action movies in the first place.

Lee Jung-jae is terrifically loathsome as Yem and Ha Jung-woo’s Hawaii Pistol certainly holds up his end during the action sequences, but Gianna Jun commands the film from start to finish. She was great in Choi’s The Thieves, but this is another level up for her as an action lead. She looks like a natural firing the Mosin-Nagant sniper rifle, but she also expresses the sort emotional turmoil you would expect from an orphan, whose family relationships are about to get considerably more complicated.

Assassination somehow runs a robust one hundred thirty-nine minutes, but they are a lean, mean one hundred thirty-nine minutes. It feels drastically shorter, because most of the time is devoted to action and the relatively quiet moments are used for some pretty effective intrigue. For action fans, this is the good stuff. Very highly recommended, Assassination opens this Friday (8/7) in New York, at the AMC Empire.