***1/2 out of **** (31/2 Stars Out of 4 Stars)
As political assassinations go, the 2017 murder of Kim Jong-nam at the Kuala Lampur airport ranks pretty far down on the visibility, outrage, and global impact lists.
Even those among us who consider themselves news junkies have a tough time recalling the exact details of the crime, even though it was one of the most bizarre events of its kind ever perpetrated.
Had this story been the basis for a live-action movie, the screenplay would have never made it beyond a fleeting "look-see" browse.
It’s that far-fetched.
Keenly recognizing the usually dry Point A to Point Z approach might bore his audience to tears, director Ryan White ("The Keepers" — 2017, "The Case Against 8" — 2014, and "Serena" — 2016) opens the documentary with the murder itself which, in the process, leaves no doubt as to who committed the crime. From there, Ryan hop-scotches backward and forward with a non-linear narrative usually reserved for high-end, made-up, mystery thrillers.
The first born and once-favored son of late North Korean dictator Kim Jung-il (1941-2011), Kim Jong-nam fell out of favor with his father after the birth of his half brother Kim Jong-un.
This was due mostly to former dancer Ko Jong-hui, Kim Jung-il’s consort and the mother of Kim Jong-un who not only pushed Kim Jong-nam out of the familial line of succession but completely out of the country.
Once his younger brother became Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-nam relocated to Macau in China where he hoped to live out his years in relative obscurity.
According to the film and most historical accounts, he had no desire to challenge his brother and went out of his way to make that position clear.
At one point in the film, White compares the sibling rivalry of the Kim brothers to that of Cain & Abel and Romulus & Remus and it is not entirely without merit, however this was a one-sided grudge match. Much like Michael Corleone, Richard III, and Richard Nixon, the younger Kim wished to vanquish all of his enemies, real or imagined, however insignificant or quasi-threatening they might be.
Both in their early ’20s at the time, Kim Jong-nam’s assassins couldn’t be further from what you might expect from shadowy, cloak-and-dagger hit men.
Indonesian Siti Aisyah had moved to Malaysia looking for an exciting new life in any big city. The Vietnamese Doan Thi Hoang was an aspiring (not-so-talented) actress who was looking for anything resembling a professional break.
The women were open to almost anything to make a living (at one point Aisyah considered prostitution), each had outgoing personalities and both were ripe, ideal targets for just the right coordinated ruse.
Under the guise of lucrative careers on youtube.com, the women were approached by shady North Korean operatives pretending to be Japanese producers who promised fame and everything that goes with it. The women would be reoccurring characters in a series of reality, "Candid Camera" type short videos where the constant theme would be scaring, duping or embarrassing predetermined marks.
So easy was the gig that Aisyah questioned how the pay could be so good for work which appeared so utterly simple.
With some heavy make-up and cosplay-inspired wardrobe overhauls, Hoang and Aisyah could have easily become Asian "idols" which made what they did all the more ludicrous and improbable. Neither of them had even heard of the Kim family and never met each other prior to the commitment of the crime.
You think Oswald was a "patsy?" He’s got nothing on these two girls.
At about the halfway point, White pivots, diverting our attention away from the players, their motives and the like, and instead focuses on the role of modern technology on the crime, its preamble, and its aftermath.
What the orchestrators of this and other modern conspiratorial, clandestine crimes probably hadn’t counted on going in was the electronic paper trail of texts and the Big Brother chronicling of every single, solitary move they made.
The semi-good news here is that pulling off the perfect crime in the future will become infinitely more difficult, if not impossible, especially given the human tendency to blab about and share everything via social media on smart phones.
The tiny cameras are everywhere. Welcome to "The Truman Show."
The epilogue to White’s movie is bittersweet on a multitude of levels.
Justice is now decided in the forum of hazy backroom deals, twisted diplomacy and public perception. The truth is masked in smoke and mirrors and the obvious is discounted and slandered within the context of shrill conspiracy theories.
"Assassination" isn’t limited to the murder of a political foe.
It can also be applied to the process of democracy. The ability to change voting results with covert electronic manipulation is just as dangerous and lethal as a sniper’s scope or VX nerve agent spread on a victim’s face.
It all ends with the same result.
The sheep will to continue to blindly follow the dim din while the other packs carefully prepare.
Presented in English with frequent subtitled Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Malay.
Originally from Washington, D."C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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