Assassins review: An engrossing true-crime documentary that exposes corruption on a global scale
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Critics Review
Assassins review: An engrossing true-crime documentary that exposes corruption on a global scale

An eye-opener on international diplomacy, judiciary, and corruption through one of the most high-profile assassinations in recent years — the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.

Ryan Gomez
Oct 03, 2021
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The documentary, streaming on BookMyShow Stream, focuses on the trial of the two young women, Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong who were charged by the Malaysian authorities for assassinating Kim-Jong Nam by smearing the deadly VX nerve toxic on his face in broad daylight at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia.


When the news of Kim Jong-Nam’s assassination broke in 2017 there was a sense of a Hollywood script being played out in real life. In the most James Bond-esque story, one could imagine, two young women were arrested. The idea of ‘femme fatale’ was a narrative that was easy to capture the imagination of people across the globe simply because it was one of the most popular tropes used in literature, film, television, and even video games. However, this documentary directed by Ryan White does not indulge in the aforementioned trope but has documented a detailed analysis of the case with access to interviews with the two women, Aisyah and Huong, their lawyers, journalists, archival footage of the investigation, CCTV footage of the incident, and court recording of the trail itself. Assassins establish that these women are in fact unwitting accomplices in one of the bizarre and extraordinary assassinations of the 21st century.


The documentary flips the script on what people expect from political assassination stories. There are no high-speed car chases, no military-style covert ops tactics, nor is there a story about assassins training programs vis-à-vis a Robert Ludlum or a Ken Follet novel, but there is an exposé on the corruption in judicial proceedings and investigations in Malaysia, as well as the complexity and intricacies in the diplomatic relations between North Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. It also sheds light on how North Korea operates and the totalitarian rule of their ‘supreme ruler’, Kim Jong-Un, and why he had allegedly ordered a hit on his brother. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time a dictator went after their own family members, Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussain have earned notoriety for it during their heyday.


Journalists Hadi Azmi and Anna Fifield offer insight into the political landscape of Malaysia and North Korea respectively, while Aisyah’s and Huong’s lawyers give detailed accounts of how the judiciary functions in Malaysia. The court proceedings and the interviews paint a tragic picture of how two vulnerable women, migrant women, in fact, moved to Malaysia to get better lives for themselves only to find themselves involved in an international assassination plot. What’s more worrying is the fact that the alleged North Korean agents involved in the conspiracy were not persecuted, but the two women who were allegedly made to believe that they were taking part in a prank show for social media were put behind bars. The North Koreans involved were released after the North Korean government detained Malaysian delegates in the country, while Huong and Aisyah were potentially facing the death penalty.


The court proceedings reveal a colossal miscarriage of justice, and there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that the women were merely scapegoats to preserve diplomatic ties. It is also ironic that the women were eventually released to maintain other diplomatic ties. It wasn’t the laws or the due process of law which exonerated them but rather it was just political arm-wrestling that eventually got them out after months in prison. The documentary also highlights the bond that develops between the two women during the time they spent together. Despite their eventual releases, their lives and that of their families would never be the same. If indeed North Korea is behind the assassination as widely reported, they have come out of this unscathed, which begs the question if this case got the justice it deserved.


Assassins is arguably one of the most well-researched true-crime documentaries, even though it largely resembles a political documentary. It is a jaw-dropping narrative of a systematic failure on so many different levels on the social and civic spectrum.

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