Director: Boo Junfeng
Cast: Firdaus Rahman, Wan Hanafi Su, Mastura Ahmad, Gerald Chew, Crispian Chan
Runtime: 1 hr 36 mins
Rating: M18 (Mature Content)
Released By: Clover Films and Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/apprenticefilm
Opening Day: 30 June 2016
Synopsis: Aiman is a 28-year-old Malay correctional officer who is recently transferred to the territory’s top prison. He lives with his older sister Suhaila in a modest housing estate. At his new workplace, Aiman begins to take an interest in a 65-year-old sergeant named Rahim. Soon, it is revealed that the charismatic Rahim is actually the long-serving chief executioner of the prison. Rahim also takes notice of the principled and diligent Aiman. When Rahim’s assistant suddenly quits, he asks Aiman to become his apprentice. Aiman tells Suhaila of his new job position, but Suhaila becomes upset, as their father was actually executed by Rahim. Aiman knew this all along. Can Aiman overcome his conscience and a haunted past to possibly take over as the next chief executioner?
This reviewer can’t get local filmmaker Boo Junfeng’s sophomore feature film out of his head. It’s a good thing though, because it means that this writer is still alive – alive with the ability to feel, that is. With so many superheroes, aliens, loud explosions, gunfights and car crashes in cineplexes these days, it is indeed refreshing to go back to the very basics of filmmaking – to tell an affecting story.
The young filmmaker is a wonderful storyteller who knows how to communicate with his viewers through visuals. Go check out his short films (2004’s A Family Portrait, 2006’s The Changi Murals, 2007’s Katong Fugue, 2008’s Katong Jetty and 2009’s Tangjong Rhu) and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how his works can impact you in an incredibly moving manner. Then came his first feature film Sandcastle (2010), which made a well received debut at that year’s Cannes Film Festival Critics’ Week.
Six years later, Boo returns to the prestigious film festival with his second feature film, which was selected for the Un Certain Regard section together with 17 other films. At the heart of this quietly poignant film is the relationship between a young prison officer Aiman (Fir Rahman) and a prison executioner Rahim (a very charismatic Wan Hanafi Su). There’s also the anguished dynamics between Aiman and his elder sister Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad). There is a lot of human drama on display here, with lots of chemistry between the cast.
There are fascinating character studies throughout the film’s 96 minute runtime. We feel Aiman’s inner turmoil, feel shaken by Rahim’s authoritative presence and empathise with Suhaila’s emotions. The three actors deliver commendable performances, thanks to competent direction from Boo. Attention is paid to details, and every glance and expression is intimately dealt with.
On another level, the film explores the topic of capital punishment. There is nothing too flashy here – do not expect tension filled scenes of lethal injections, electric chairs and unjustified sentences. What you get instead is the traditional method execution by hanging.
What we respectfully admire about this film is how it tackles themes which are seemingly contentious and difficult to deal with. Boo has the ability to thread on these topics sensitively and present them in a relatable manner. As a result, the storytelling feels intimate and viewers feel like they can empathise with the characters whose encounters, simply put, are human experiences you and I remember feeling. Despite the predictable ending (really, how else would one expect the film to conclude?), this is one of those thought provoking films you walk of the theatre of, feeling contemplative about life.
Needless to say, production scale and values have gone up from Boo’s last feature. Filming was done on location in Australia at two decommissioned prisons. Funding for the production came from a few international sources.
The graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic and The Puttnam School of Film at the Lasalle Collegeof the Arts, though young, is a master when it comes to storytelling. This emotionally intense film is a testament to that.
(Boo Junfeng’s impressive sophomore feature may deal with the dehumanising topic of capital punishment, but it will be one of the most humane films you’ll ever watch)
Review by John Li