Since I haven’t watch Cheo-yong, I need to fill up the blog space with something. (apologies to my avid Cheo-yong reader, kooriyuki) I caught Assassination over the weekend at the local theatres. In a nutshell, it’s a Jun Ji-hyun movie.
- Gianna Jun Ji-hyun as Ahn Ok-hyun/ Mitsuko. Yep, she plays double roles here as a pair of twin sisters, with very, very different lives.
- Lee Jung-jae as Capt Yeom Seok-jin. The double agent traitorous spy in Assassination. Supremely strong survival instinct, and took a long while to finish him off.
- Ha Jung-woo as Hawaii Pistol. A hired gunman, who later falls in love with Ok-hyun. He has a trusted sidekick, “Young-gam” (or Old Man, played by Oh Dal-soo) following him on his missions.
- Cho Jin-woong as Big Gun/ Soksapo. One of Ok-hyun’s team mates in the assassination mission. Like his nick suggests, he is always with an array of heavy artillery.
- Choi Duk-moon as Hwang Deok-sam. Soksapo’s ex-prison mate, also one of Ok-hyun’s team mates. His speciality is explosives.
- Lee Kyoung-young as Kang In-gook. Traitorous Korean businessman, who will stoop at nothing to make money.
We open in the early 30s, where Seok-jin (then a Korean agent), is tasked to assassinate Governal-General Mamoru, during a meeting with businessman Kang In-gook, to discuss the ownership transference of Korean’s gold mines to Kang. Seok-jin escapes after failing in his mission. In the evening, Kang realises his wife (Mdm Ahn Sung-sim, played by Jin-kyung) is part of the resistance movement when he finds her hiding Seok-jin in his house. Knowing that Kang will kill her as she is now a liability in his plans, Mdm Ahn tries to flee in the night with her twin daughters. She doesn’t make it. Kang orders his men to track her down and murder her in cold blood. One of the twins is carried away by the wet nurse, who manages to escape. Seok-jin is arrested and tortured by the Japanese police.
Years later in Manchuria (China), Seok-jin is again at work for the Provisional Govt of Korea, and he is told to gather 3 people to form an assassination team. The 3 are Soksapo, Deok-sam and Ok-hyun. Soksapo and Deok-sam are inmates in the same prison (for committing minor offenses) and Ok-hyun is held under marshal law for shooting her superior in the Liberation Army. Seok-jin manages to gather the team without much mishaps and they are told to meet at Hotel Mirabeau in Shanghai for more information. The meeting is supposedly to take place in the next morning at 10am.
At Hotel Mirabeau, Ok-hyun meets a man (Hawaii Pistol) who helps her evade questioning by the French police. (Shanghai is supposedly less affected by the Japanese Occupation, due to the high Western influence then, but the police officers there are more or less lackeys to the Japanese) At night, Kim Won-bong, the leader of the resistance movement, meets them secretly. Thankfully, he has the mind to change the meeting time…cos Seok-jin sells the group out to the Japanese. During his incarceration in the Japanese prison years ago, Seok-jin has defected and joined the Japanese as a double agent. He has been providing info to the enemies on possible assassination attempts.
The Japanese police are unhappy when they raid Hotel Mirabeau next morning, and find their birds having flown the coop. Ok-hyun and her team have ensconced themselves in Café Anemone, the centre of the Provisional Govt of Korea and a gathering outpost for the resistance movement. They make plans to assassinate Kang In-gook and Governor-General Mamoru the next day when Mitsuko (Kang’s daughter) and her fiancé, Kawaguchi, make a trip through town. Unfortunately, things do not go that smoothly for them.
Seok-jin, upon hearing that the Japanese police failed to capture anyone in Hotel Mirabeau, hires Hawaii Pistol (and Young-gam) to take out the 3. They agree to the business deal. Hawaii Pistol attacks Soksapo the night before the assassination plan, and shoots him. Left with only Deok-sam, Ok-hyun carries out the assassination as agreed. However, Kang and Mamoru switch vehicles that day and the wrong car is targeted. Deok-sam dies in the failed mission, and Ok-hyun stumbles upon her missing twin — Mitsuko. She is in the car which the team has mistaken for as the target. Mitsuko is as shocked to see Ok-hyun.
Hawaii Pistol, who upon seeing Ok-hyun and recognising her as the lady he met at Hotel Mirabeau, chooses to abort Seok-jin’s mission. He later helps Ok-hyun escape capture from the Japanese police. Mitsuko, upon returning home, gleans the identity and address of her missing twin sister and secretly pays a visit to her the following day.
Uknown to Mitsuko, her father also plans to ferret Ok-hyun out — to kill her. When he arrives shortly after Mitsuko does at Ok-hyun’s hideout, he mistakes Mitsuko as Ok-hyun and plants a bullet into her heart. Ok-hyun witnesses the murder from the bedroom where she has hidden. She evades capture a second time and decides to take on the role of Mitsuko in order to fulfil her mission and also, to revenge her sister. (whom she only got to chat with for a whole 3 mins)
Hawaii Pistol, who should return to Manchuria after his aborted hit, chooses instead to help Ok-hyun complete her mission. He (under the guise of a Jap Naval Officer), pays a visit to Mitsuko’s house on the pretext of offering his help to Kawaguchi (Mitsuko’s fiancé) for the wedding. He realises that Ok-hyun has taken Mitsuko’s place. Ok-hyun tells him to leave — she will carry out the plan alone on the wedding day. Hawaii Pistol refuses.
Meanwhile, Soksapo (who had survived Hawaii Pistol’s hit) returns to Café Anemone. He learns of Deok-sam’s death and Ok-hyun’s disappearance, and vows to avenge them by completing their mission single-handedly.
On the wedding day, Soksapo hides in the elevator’s shaft, and Ok-hyun dresses herself as bride Mitsuko to carry out the assassination. Hawaii Pistol also arrives as Kawaguchi’s guest. However, Seok-jin (who is now promoted to Police Chief) recognises him, and arrests him.
The shootout starts when Soksapo fires from his hiding place and sweeps the area with his machine guns. However, he is injured in the cross fire. Ok-hyun manages to injure Kawaguchi and kills Mamoru. Hawaii Pistol, who escapes in the confusion, ends Kang In-gook’s life.
Using Kawaguchi as hostage, Hawaii Pistol and Ok-hyun escape in Young-gam’s car. But they are pursued by the Japanese police and barricade themselves in Café Anemone. Hawaii Pistol tells Ok-hyun to “surrender” herself to Seok-jin, cos he doesn’t know that she isn’t Mitsuko. (Seok-jin assumes Mitsuko and Kawaguchi are held hostage by Hawaii Pistol) Meanwhile Hawaii Pistol and Young-gam dig themselves out from Café Anemone’s secret tunnel to Cheonggyecheong. Unfortunately, Seok-jin (after sending off “Mitsuko” to safety) is lying in wait for them. He kills them both.
Post-war, Seok-jin is tried in Court for his role as a traitor in the war. However, he manages to be let off the hook due to lack of evidence (the sole witness is murdered) and a self-righteous rhetoric. But justice is still served at the end when Ok-hyun reappears (with another agent that Seok-jin thought he had killed) and finishes him off.
Like I said, Assassination is a Jun Ji-hyun movie. The central figure is her from the start (the separation of the twin girls already hint that their paths will cross again), and her supporting male leads help lend a romantic slant to an otherwise straightforward assassination mission. (which we know will fail anyway) And Jun Ji-hyun does deliver: I love both her portrayals of Ok-hyun, the determined and professional sniper who is still a country bumpkin at heart, and Mitsuko, the vapid airhead of a rich, young lady, who is also very cynical and jaded.
Another small surprise is the humour in Assassination. While the background is bleak (it’s a period of oppression — and war — afterall), the characters manage to bring about chuckles from the audience. For example: Deok-sam and Soksapo’s rather amusing “prison break”, Ok-hyun’s first meeting with Hawaii Pistol, where she mimics his every move when drinking the “fabled aromatic” coffee (to the point where she licks the teaspoon like him), and of cos, Oh Dal-soo is always a delight in playing goofy sidekick characters.
Thankfully, there are the small “side dishes” of humour and romance in Assassination. Cos, like I mentioned, the whole plan smells of Doom from start-go. Owing to poor organisation, lack of clear communications and funding, most attempts at revolt fail. Like Seok-jin puts it, he defected to become a Japanese spy, even though he took 6 bullets during his stint as a Korean agent, simply cos he sees no possibility of Korea ever escaping from Japan’s clutches. Exemplified by the characters doing their one-(wo)man Rambo thing haphazardly throughout Assassination. They are rather like moths throwing themselves carelessly into flames, when knowing that Death is a certainty. (and nothing is going to change)
Which Ok-hyun then sums up and explains — it isn’t about the result, it is the act itself that proves that they are not defeated. That is why they will continue to carry out these missions: it is a message to the others not to give up on hope.