Assassination, set mostly in 1933, Japan-controlled Korea, is about an attempt to kill both the longtime commander of the Japanese forces stationed there, as well as a notable Korean industrialist who has chosen to ally himself with the Japanese. To that end, the Korean Provisional Government, based in China, pulls together a trio of soldiers, each with special skills, each one currently behind bars, and sets them the task of killing both targets.
Things are complicated by a turncoat within the Provisional Government who informs the Japanese, who opt to hire a hitman pair, Hawaii Pistol and Buddy. Things are further complicated because the sniper on the assassin team, An Ok-yun, has a connection to the industrialist she isn't aware of.
The movie has a lot of chance encounters between characters, which then complicate their interactions and entangle their stories more and more. Ahn and Hawaii Pistol meet each other on a train before either knows they should be on the lookout for the other. Ahn has a twin sister (neither aware of the other's existence), who catches a glimpse of her when they both happen to be in a department store. The kind of thing Guy Ritchie used for comedic effect, where all these different characters eventually end up colliding (often literally) at the climax of the film, wiping each other out without even necessarily knowing why.
Director Dong-hoon Choi isn't playing it for laughs, but does use it to great effect in creating an air of unpredictability. There are certain cliches I'd expect to play out in movies (or maybe just American movies) with some of these set-ups. But in Assassination, I never felt entirely confident I knew how it would play out. Who would survive, would the targets be eliminated, would that turncoat get what's coming to him. It was hard to tell which side someone would land on, even when it seemed like there was a clear answer, I couldn't quite be sure. There was one death in particular, maybe I should have seen it coming, but I was caught completely off-guard by it, and it ramped up my anticipation for the finale.
It's a nice film to look at, I thought the costuming was pretty good - I don't know how period accurate it is, but the characters look distinct and some of them look very cool - the frequent gunfights are entertaining. There's one hand-to-hand fight which was kind of unusual, since one of the characters supposedly learned his fighting style from tennis.
As you might expect, the Japanese do not come off well, but the ones who ally with them get it even worse. The spy within the ranks is fun to watch, where I wonder how much he believes the justifications he spouts. At sometimes, it's an act, like when he feigns being willing to shoot himself because a superior distrusts him, because he overheard an earlier conversation and knows the gun's not loaded. But later, I think he might actually believe what he says, that he sacrificed for his country.
There's a spot where the film dragged a bit, starting maybe in the last forty-five minutes, until the last 20 minutes, where I was wanting it to hurry up and get to the end. For the most part, though, the film moves at a brisk pace, changing things up with betrayals and complications, forcing the characters to change their plans and scramble to stay alive long enough to finish their mission.