LOS ANGELES ASIAN PACIFIC FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Masked gunmen have taken a school hostage, and a band of armed locals comes to save the day. One can vividly imagine how this story plays out in the testosterone-driven, gun-loving United States of America. But instead, we’re in the icebound country of Kazakhstan, and Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s thriller, Assault, boasts a team of barely-skilled and mostly unarmed heroes to undertake this very unusual adventure.
Assault opens with a band of five masked gunmen preparing to take over the local school of an isolated town. The shooters walk onto campus in broad daylight, head to the center of the school, and wait. They pass several teachers, classes, and security guards, and no one notices them nor suspects any imminent foul play.
Meanwhile, high school teacher Tazshy (Azamat Nigmanov) is interrupted by his ex-wife, Lena (Aleksandra Revenko), insisting that he sign divorce papers. Their son is in his father’s class and tries to hug his mother, but Tazshy pushes him back into the room. Needing a break after the confrontation, he locks his students in the classroom and leaves. Tazshy cowardly runs to safety when the shooting begins, leaving his son and students as hostages for the gunmen.
Due to the town’s remote location, a government tac team is days away. Feeling guilty for his cowardness, Tazshy forms a makeshift assault team, including his ex-wife, a police officer, the principal (Teoman Khos), an alcoholic war veteran, and local mobsters. The problem is the team is sorely unprepared for a complicated mission, and there are only enough guns for about half of them. Also, each member has either zero combat training or hasn’t seen combat in years.
“…a band of five masked gunmen preparing to take over the local school of an isolated town.”
Assault immediately reminded me of The Bad News Bears. This band of locals has no business taking on the gunmen. They give themselves 36 hours to prepare and train, and in the end, there’s just not enough time. “Pathetic” is the word that comes to mind. The only competent team member is Lena, who appears to be a great marksperson — although she puts the rifle site way too close to her face… like right in the eye socket.
The film is listed as a dark comedy, which it is, I suppose. However, the tone intrigued me. The humor is as dry as the desert, which is ironic for a film in an icy and snowy climate. Every character borders on the silly and incompetent, but each actor plays them as real and grounded. The first sign of this serious silliness is shown when the team decides to infiltrate the school by donning wool pelts and mingling amongst a herd of sheep. There’s no irony here or wink at the camera. They just do it with all earnestness, and the sequence is impressive to behold.
Not to get into spoilers, but the plan is executed absolutely straight when they undergo the rescue operation. There are no sight gags, no jokes, nor any comedic “Hail Mary” efforts for the win. I may not have laughed out loud, but there’s a lot of humor and “I can’t believe this is actually happening” moments in Assault. And then the ending…
Assault should probably come with a school shooting trigger warning, and I am sure its premise alone will infuriate an overly woke progressive. However, I admire the film’s laid-back tone, moxie, and ability to find humor in a deadly serious situation. If this were made in the U.S., it would be an absolute comedic disaster. Thankfully it was not.
Assault screened at the 2022 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
"…I admire the film's laid-back tone, moxie, and ability to find humor in a deadly serious situation."