The two women who smeared a nerve agent on the face of Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, causing his death, have left a light pop-cultural footprint in the United States. This is especially so given that one of them was wearing a shirt reading “LOL” during the act. Anyone that meme-ready deserves at least one movie.
Enter “Assassins,” a documentary from the filmmaker Ryan White (“Ask Dr. Ruth”), which traces with impressive clarity the path that led Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong to Kuala Lumpur International Airport that morning in February 2017. It makes a convincing case that they had no idea they were involved in an international murder plot.
Both women — the Indonesian Siti and the Vietnamese Huong — were released from prison last year, with Huong pleading guilty to the charge of causing bodily harm. White’s film suggests that the Malaysian justice system had treated them as scapegoats. Drawing on the defense lawyers and plenty of video evidence, the movie maintains that Siti and Huong were independently recruited as actresses for prank videos. One routine their bosses taught them? Rub baby lotion on a stranger.
As filmmaking, “Assassins” is not new: It pulls from the usual paranoid-documentary playbook, inviting the audience to pore over surveillance footage and leaning on a sweat-inducing score from Blake Neely. Its main virtues are a wild story and a stealth sense of outrage. It argues that these so-called assassins became political pawns and had to face the courts without witnesses who might have aided their defense.
Not rated. In Vietnamese, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, English and Malay, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.