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Film review: Apprentice – spotlight on executioner in nuanced Singapore prison drama

Director Boo Junfeng manages to avoid clichés to bring Singapore’s prison system and Death Row into the light in this seamless piece of filmmaking

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 8:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 11:11am

4/5 stars

With his second film (after 2010’s Sandcastle), Boo Junfeng truly announces himself as an impressive filmmaking talent. Still only 32, the Singaporean director shows considerable maturity with Apprentice, a tightly controlled prison drama that has little interest in the clichés that usually afflict this well-worn genre.

Here, his focus is a young Malay correctional officer, Aiman (Fir Rahman), and his relationship to the jail’s chief executioner, the ageing Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su). Entering the fictional Malay maximum security Larangan Prison, Aiman soon befriends Rahim – a turn of events that gains in resonance when it’s revealed that, 30 years prior, this executioner was the man who hanged Aiman’s father for murder.

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If your immediate thoughts are that Boo intends Apprentice to be some sort of sordid revenge tale, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s far more complex and nuanced, as the director turns his camera on the dark corners of Death Row.

Particularly fine is the white-haired Wan Hanafi Su, who admirably conveys the cumulative effect of pulling the lever so many times (one scene of road rage says it all). But Boo primarily keeps the focus on Aiman – a young man almost morbidly obsessed with a mentor who gradually invites him to become his successor.

It’s a twisted psychology that Boo plays with, and when the inevitable revelations come, they arrive with considerable power and purpose. With the prison scenes partly shot in Sydney, it’s a seamless bit of filmmaking. An apprentice Boo is certainly not.

Apprentice opens on October 27

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