Boo Junfeng executes the right moves in Apprentice
This local film explores the death penalty from the eyes of an executioner.
It is refreshing to watch a local film that tackles the topic of the death penalty. Even more unique is how 32-year-old director Boo Junfeng explores the controversial issue through the eyes of the executioners.
In Apprentice, we follow Aiman (Firdaus Rahman), a violent and rebellious young man turned good, as he transfers to a maximum-security prison as a correctional officer.
He forms an unthinkable mentoring relationship with chief executioner Rahim, played by veteran Malaysian actor Wan Hanafi Su, the very man who hung Aiman’s father.
The psychological struggle faced by Aiman is the central element in Apprentice. While Aiman attempts to reconcile his self-identity, his relationship with his sister (Mastura Ahmad) is also put on the rocks.
“I wanted the prison to represent not just a physical place, but a psychological space for Aiman as well – his confusion and dilemmas needed to manifest itself in a space that is darker, for the audience to follow him through his psychological journey,” shared the young filmmaker in a dialogue session organized by National Youth Council last Friday.
For a movie that tackles the controversial issue of the death penalty in Singapore, you will be surprised to know that most of the prison scenes were in fact filmed in abandoned prisons in Australia.
According to Junfeng, the prisons in Singapore are much too “sterile” to reflect the protagonist’s psychological state in this drama film.
In order to portray the mind sets of hangmen as accurately as possible, Junfeng spent three years researching this topic that he had always been conscious of since his teen years.
Junfeng shared: “I felt inadequate when I first started the preparations for Apprentice, and I felt I needed more life experiences. I eventually found and spoke to a few former executioners, and I was surprised how ‘normal’ these uncles are…The chance to meet these ex-hangmen rather humanised my initial impression of them.
“It was hard reconciling the fact that these men were allowed to kill hundreds of men legally.”
Given how Junfeng revealed that making this film had not changed his stance on capital punishment (he still does not believe in it), I was curious to see how he would end this film, and I was not left disappointed.
The unexpectedly powerful ending forced me to ponder over this controversial issue together with Aiman. And I was not the only one – the film received a standing ovation at the recent Cannes Film Festival.
“I did not make this film to provide answers; rather, I hope it will generate questions and make us think about how we feel about death penalty – at least now the audience has seen how executions are done in real life,” Junfeng said.
Apprentice (rated M18) in now showing in cinemas.