Director: Boo Junfeng
Cast: Fir Rahman, Wan Hanafi Su, Mastura Ahmad
Plot: Aiman, a young correctional officer, is transferred to a maximum security prison, where he befriends senior officer Rahim, who is in charge of executions. The two men start a friendship, but unknown to Rahim, Aiman's father had been executed by him many years ago.
Review: Apprentice is Singapore's official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at next year's Oscars. It is an interesting, if not totally perfect film.
Aiman is a young correctional officer transferred to Larangan Prison, assigned to the rehabilitation section. He takes an interest in Rahim, a senior officer in the executions section, and befriends him. The old man takes a liking to Aiman, seeing a younger version of himself in him, but what he doesn't know is that he had executed Aiman's father many years ago. So the question is, why is Aiman seeking him out now?
The answer isn't forthcoming however, or if it was answered, it was done vaguely. Writer/director Boo Junfeng isn't interested in making a vengeance story, which Apprentice clearly is not. This is actually a character study, and an insight into an executioner's duty and what it feels like to work in a prison. Boo's story focuses on two men, one who has a chip on his shoulder, and another who is good at what he does, but not as content with it as he claims to be.
We watch the two men mostly from Aiman's point of view. Aiman carries the burden of his father's crime, and lashes out his anger at his older sister, who is in a relationship with an Australian expat. Rahim on the other hand has done his duty for three decades, and though it seems easy to him, it is clear that taking a person's life does take a toll on him. While Boo fleshes out both characters well, the question as to Aiman's intentions in pursuing the executioner's job and getting close to Rahim is never fully explained. It's obvious he doesn't want revenge, and he can excel at anything other than this, so why? Aside from that, Aiman's disdain for his sister's expat boyfriend is not properly explored either, and his anger towards her for making a life changing decision at the film's half mark is baffling, since he's always so indifferent with her.
But it must be said that Apprentice excels in sound and cinematography. The film is almost scoreless, so every footstep, door slam and the pull of the trap door lever sounds really crisp and perfect. The camerawork is also splendid, as the narrow confines of a prison cell, rooms and corridors are perfectly captured. Even the early morning shots of Aiman going to work are well done.
Acting wise, Fir Rahman is alright as Aiman, but rather inconsistent. In some scenes, he's on point, but in other times he seems much too aloof. Wan Hanafi Su is faultless as Rahim, balancing the character's mentor friendly demeanor and pent up rage brilliantly. Mastura Ahmad also puts in a strong performance as Suhaila, Aiman's sister, who doesn't know what to do with her little brother most of the time.
Another interesting aspect of the film is the execution scenes. While Hollywood likes to portray death row inmates as tough and unafraid of death, it's refreshing to see Boo show them as fearful of their fated walk down the dark corridor to the noose. Boo even spares some time to point his lens at the inmates' family and how they deal with the matter.
In summation, Apprentice is a solid film about the life of an executioner and how it is like working in a prison. The film is a bit rough around the edges, but very promising indeed and worth checking out. (7/10)