(Release Info London schedule; January 29th, 2021, Curzon Home Cinema)
In 2017, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of 'North Korea’s' leader Kim Jong-un, was assassinated in the bustling departures hall of 'Malaysia’s International Airport'. The spectacularly brazen murder happened in broad daylight, filmed entirely by security cameras. Footage showed two young women approaching Jong-nam from behind, covering his eyes with their hands, and pressing 'VX', the most lethal nerve gas on earth, into his eyes. He stumbled away and was dead within an hour. But if the murder was extreme, the story that came next was even more bizarre: The two women who killed Jong-nam claimed they had simply been hired to pull a video prank and had no idea what they're really doing. 'The Malaysian' government scoffed, arrested and imprisoned the women and put them on trial for murder, facing execution. But was their outlandish story actually the truth? And would anyone believe them? "Assassins" travels from the sanctums of 'Pyongyang' to the rice fields of 'Indonesia' and 'Vietnam' to the courtrooms of 'Kuala Lumpur' to tell an extraordinary tale of manipulation and subterfuge in the age of social media. A masterful investigation that offers an unprecedented look at the real story of Kim Jong-nam’s murder, "Assassins" is the wildly improbable tale of a calculating dictator, a nefarious plot, a very public murder, and two women fighting for their lives.
Siti is represented by 'The Gooi & Azura' law firm. They've a contract with 'The Indonesian' embassy in 'Kuala Lumpur' so any time an 'Indonesian' citizen in 'Malaysia' is on trial facing the death penalty, they get that case. Doan’s situation is a little bit different. 'The Vietnam Bar Association' ended up hiring a team to represent her, three different lawyers in two different firms. Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, the main character in our film who’s her representative, is a big-time lawyer in Malaysia and in death penalty cases specifically. We feel that Siti’s and Doan’s lawyers don’t get enough credit for how brave what they're doing actually is. They're two of the only groups to publicly point the finger at 'North Korea' in a way that 'The Malaysian Government' would not, in the way that other foreign governments would not. It's almost as if nobody wants to take on that assertion, to say clearly that even if these women were the assassins, they're not the masterminds. Siti and Doan are from different countries, they've different backgrounds, they've different educations, it's really chilling, the idea of what might have happened to them. Worldwide almost everyone presumed that Siti and Doan were guilty, that they must have been part of this regime in some way, or that they're paid assassins. No one would ever jump to the conclusion that two people could be tricked into pulling off a major political assassination. Everybody on the ground thought that they're going to be convicted, the odds were so stacked against them. So the more we realized that they might be innocent and the further it got into the trial and the more likely it looked that they're going to be executed, the more heart-wrenching it's.
Somewhat morbidly we assumed that because they're going to be convicted and sentenced to death. One of the more heartbreaking parts of the film is when Doan says that the world used to be pink to her and now she won’t trust people in the same way that she did. It’s so sad because that's robbed from her, why shouldn’t she be allowed to be trusting? But this film illustrates how dangerous the world can be if you're too trusting. Every time we follow the women at trial, day in and day out, the women are immediately escorted onto the elevator and up to the courtroom. And one day the elevator isn't there on time so the women have to wait a second and the camera is able to get this single shot of Doan clenching her fists with her handcuffs on. That shot gives us goosebumps because you can just feel what she’s feeling. Her hands are bound behind her and she’s feeling so much emotion and that’s how she expressing it, with these hands that she can’t move as she walks into a courtroom where she listens to a trial that’s not in her native tongue and faces the death penalty. The film creates a real sense of apprehension about whether Siti and Doan will be found guilty and put to death. The nexus of the film is the exploitation of young women. Even though this story goes in the most warped, bizarre, perverse direction, in the end these were women who were exploited because of the circumstances that they're in, who were vulnerable. And that's happening worldwide.
Kim Jong-nam was assassinated in February of 2017. To go back and look at history, that was Donald Trump’s first full month in office. Most Americans, remember it as a huge news story the day that it happened, but very quickly it subsided in 'The American' news because so much of the airwaves were dedicated to Trump. The assassination became one of those stories that everyone remembers happened but they don’t remember exactly what happened. They remember bits and pieces, they remember that it was something sensational. People say, weren’t they female assassins? And then they've some crazy version of how the women killed Kim Jong-nam, and those stories are always very elaborate and wrong. We’ve heard poisonous lipstick, we’ve heard darts, we’ve heard guns; everything but what actually happened. We didn’t have that big-picture view of the arc of Kim Jong-un’s rise to power and what role Kim Jong-nam’s assassination played in that rise. There’s a theme to the whole story about vulnerability and the exploitation of young women; it’s almost as if they've to force themselves to be gullible because they’re so desperate to survive and find a way forward. Anna Fifield, who's the Beijing bureau chief of 'The Washington Post', published a book last year called 'The Great Successor', which is an amazing account of Kim Jong-un. We feel like he’s often seen as a caricature, he’s laughed at, Trump calls him 'Rocketman', and Anna’s book really traced his pathway to power in a way that treats him seriously. When we read her book, it's like a missing link from the film.
The story feels so bizarre, and so distant that in a way your first thought is that you don’t relate to these women. And then as you dig deeper into it and you realize exactly what happened to them, you recognize that this could have happened to anybody, that this appeal of fame and opportunity and a better life, particularly when you're more vulnerable, could lead you to do things that others may see as ridiculous. When you’re hoping so much to find a better life for yourself and you’re presented with something that seems like it will give you that, of course you’re going to want to do it. And also they've seen it happen successfully to other people around the world, people who had found fame and fortune with social media and Internet opportunities. So it didn’t seem far-fetched that it could happen to them. What’s so interesting about it's that in the end it did bring them fame but for the worst possible reason, for a crime neither of them knew they're committing. To see them toward the end with all of these cameras is just so ironic because in a way that’s what they both wanted but certainly not under those circumstances.
That's something that we're always batting around. And there’s going to be no answer. No one will ever know why it was done in such a spectacle. There are various theories around the personality of Kim Jong-un, who loves the world of pop culture and spectacle, that perhaps that world influenced the choice of the way to do it. The one common denominator that most people come to is that this murder was a message to opponents of the Kim regime that you’re never safe no matter where you're, that they can get you at any time. This murder is so brazen and so terrifying, done in a public space, all over camera, by people who might not even be assassins and in a way that would grab the headlines in a sensational way. It’s a warning to all of 'North Korea’s' enemies. Even though there are so many factors that implicate 'North Korea' and specifically Kim Jong-un, we can’t say for sure. Assuming he's responsible, he had so many ways and opportunities to kill Kim Jong-nam and yet he chose to do it this way.