The beauty of documentary filmmaking is its inedible proof that reality is stranger than fiction. A fact that has been proven within the last four years. Before COVID consumed the planet with its devastating effects on human life, our reality show President made North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a recognized world leader. One who assassinated his half brother Kim Jon-nam in a Malaysian airport with two women’s assistance who were duped into thinking they were in a reality show pulling an innocent prank. Director Ryan White’s account of the tale behind the murder features jaw-dropping revelations leaving your mind boggled like the victims in Kim’s plot to kill his half-brother.
The story’s progression is incredible where I began to feel no sympathy for Siti Aisya and Đoàn Thị Hương, assuming they were guilty. When the film’s flip switches, I was enamored by how heartbreaking their stories were. Both girls were young, 25 and 28. Like the everyday American, they’re hypnotized by fame. Their need to be a well-known actress stumbles them into an assassination plot they weren’t even aware that they were involved in. The politics behind their trial is beyond their knowledge. Their parallels are strikingly similar to those who’ve been wrongfully accused within the United States’ criminal justice system. Many innocent citizens are sent to life imprisonment or death because they’re too desperate and uneducated to be aware of the strings that control them.
The film never judges the girls as dumb. It empathizes with their situation. With no money, a broken family, and crumbling dreams, who’s to say any of us wouldn’t have been fooled the way they were? The power politics behind Kim Jong-un’s regime isn’t over examined through convoluted exposition. The audience is given the facts quickly so the plot can move along at a relative pace. Each interview is seamlessly spliced with the action like a dramatic thriller that doesn’t feel cheap nor condescending. It’s not forcing itself to be like a Jason Bourne film. Helen Kearns does a spectacular job cutting the film into a thriller that’s not merely exciting but is emotionally introspective. Thanks to Blake Neely’s chilling score consisting of a singular slow churning violin, the movie exceeds itself beyond a genre piece of filmmaking.
The story behind Kim Jong-nam’s assassination looks nearly cut and dry on the outside. You see Aisya and Hương apply XV nerve agent to Kim’s eyes at the airport; after leaving him, they avoid touching anything; one even looks at the camera while smiling as if they’re challenging the authorities. How they were tricked into thinking this was all a prank show skit is something you have to see unfold for yourself. The legitimacy of their defense sounds absurd. Yet when examined, the proof is irrefutable. The incident itself was begging for a documentary to be made about it. If placed in over-eager hands, it could have played as a manipulative point of view. The objectivity of Ryan White’s direction is impeccably crafted. Nobody is judged nor villainized other than its corrupt world leaders behind the entire scheme. The correct amount of intimacy and distance between its subjects are drawn, so the documentarian doesn’t become too involved himself skewering away from a biased message.
If anyone has been involved in a traumatic incident, they know that everyone gets hurt in the end. Even if things wind up to be okay in the future, your life is scarred until death. We’re left empty inside, where we’re not enraged but saddened. After being used, the girls didn’t seek hatred; they wanted a solace they’ll possibly never be able to find. The story behind our movie’s detective sheds an objective light through his perspective, so audience members like myself unaware of Mr. Kim’s murder are explained the case to without it being spoon-fed. The tragedy behind Kim Jong-un’s perfect crime cements how far off the deep end America has come from its once noble stance on liberty. The trumpets of autocracy’s usage of the desperate spreads its echoes into the girls’ hope utilizing it to their greedy benefit. Siti Aisya and Đoàn Thị Hương’s tale is the theme of the American who’s promised what he or she is not given. Although they were victims of a rare extenuating circumstance, the movie masterfully takes the meaning behind their case on a sensitive universal level.