Night of the Assassin (2023) 

One of the most feared assassins of the Joseon dynasty finds himself in a position where he can no longer practice his craft, having a heart condition that limits his capacities. He soon finds himself in a village, working as a restaurant server when he is pulled back into his previous career.  

Written and directed by Kwak Jeong-deok, Night of the Assassin is a old school swords and martial arts films, with a bit more sword action than hand to hand combat. That being said, the story is one that will feel familiar to many, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun one to watch. It’s the kind of film where some of the usual clichés of Asian assassin films come up here and there throughout the run time, but they are expected and beloved, so why not include them? Overall, the story has a few ebbs and flows of style, going into comedy here and there, but mostly remaining a serious film about an assassin at the end of his career, unsure if he wants out of not, but being forced out by health issues. The film brings in other characters to help show that he’s not heartless and connect him with the audience on a human level which works quite well. The story here is not difficult to guess and it still works. The main reason most will want to see this is for the fights and those are well done and choreographed, giving the audience what they want. 

The cast here is pretty solid, everyone giving good performances with lead Shin Hyun-joon beign the one to watch of course. His work here grabs the attention and brings the viewer with him. Yes, his character is rather stoic which does limit his need to emote, but that doesn’t mean he’s not giving something in the physical performance to bring more to the character. Playing the lady who takes him in, at the village, is Kim Min-kyung who is lovely and a bit daring. Her part is that of a woman who had to do what was needed for her and her son’s survival. She’s a strong woman who won’t let anyone get in her way, but she also has a heart, which helps balance the character of course. The acting from Kim Min-kyung here really helps give this character personality and helps bring the lead played by Shin Hyun-joon into a more complex version of his character. The cast here overall is quite solid, with some performances that are more reminiscent of old school Asian sword films, something that is fun to watch.  

In terms of style, the film seems to want to be two different things. It’s more comedic at times and quite serious at others, but also this dichotomy shows in how it’s filmed. The majority of the film is shot in a straightforward manner, but randomly we get the lead’s point of view with camera angles that match this and seem out of place for most of the film. There are also some random scenes that are shot with a few too many Dutch angles. At times, the film is incredibly well-shot and at other times, it makes the viewer wonder what just happened from how the cinematographic style switches. The look of the film has two distinct personalities, something that would work if there was an obvious reason for this, but there is not, leaving it to create a few scenes and sequences that seem out of place from the rest of the film.  

Night of the Assassin, putting aside the odd filming decisions, is a good film with some fun fight sequences, good performances, and fantastic costumes. It’s a good addition to the Korean film world for those who are unfamiliar and those who are familiar, giving a fun take on the assassin film that has some odd humor and some fun throughout.