[Review] Apprentice

If you haven’t heard of ‘Apprentice’ by now, you probably live under a rock. Not to be confused with a reality TV show with the same name, the movie follows Aiman, a young correctional officer and his mentor, Rahim, who happens to be the chief executioner. There are interesting plot twists, but that’s not what this psychological drama is all about.

In his second film, director Boo Junfeng (one of Singapore’s most promising young directors who wrote and directed the entire thing) wanted to cast a light onto Singapore’s death penalty – but from a neutral perspective through the eyes of the people whose duty it is to carry out the punishment itself. The result is a dramatisation of real human stories of both the punished and the punisher.

The movie begins with Aiman (Firdaus Rahman), a mildly troubled correctional officer with a traumatic past. Transferred to a new prison, he is introduced to chief executioner Rahim, and the two form an unlikely mentor/student relationship.

Portrayed (creepily) convincingly by Malaysian actor Wan Hanafi Su, Rahim is a no-nonsense kind of guy who takes his executioner job very seriously, and considers himself a hangman connoisseur of sorts. This is a man who’s spent his entire career perfecting the art of instant death – no short drops and sudden stops for him.

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With Rahim’s mentorship, we see the inner workings of the business of execution through Aiman’s eyes, from rope maintenance (they’re forever coiling them around) to the counseling of prisoners on death row. Death is the end of life’s journey, but helping prisoners getting there with compassion requires a certain skill, and sacrifice.

The movie itself takes you through a fictitious prison – mostly shot in Australia – that features as a gritty, gloomy backdrop to much of the story’s emotions.

Things get awkward with the discovery of Aiman’s past, which ties into one of Rahim’s more memorable executions. And then tragedy strikes. Without revealing too much, Aiman is left battling his inner demons.

Through meeting former executioners and people who have had family members executed, Boo Junfeng is able to paint a picture that helps us understand the psychology of the entire process. And it shows us that human nature is as fickle as each individual.

Apprentice drags you on a journey of self discovery as well, as the film leaves audiences hanging (pun intended), pondering about Aiman’s ultimate decision at the end. Did he? Did he not?

In fact, one of the more interesting aspects of the film is in the loose ends – this leaves us asking questions, and this is precisely why director Boo Junfeng deliberately left them in: “We are so spoiled by Hollywood movies, where everything has a neat ending.” True, that. And while this is no Hollywood formula, Apprentice has certainly one-upped the multi-billion dollar industry – since its release on 30 June, it has outlasted Hollywood blockbuster titles like Ghostbusters and Independence Day: Resurgence at the cinemas.

Apprentice is an amazing piece of work.

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