STOP10 Aug 2017: 'Apprentice' by Boo Junfeng

Boo Junfeng’s Apprentice has travelled across continents for a year and is finally finding a permanent home in your grasp--a Special Edition DVD. Launched on 27 July 2017 at the Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film, the DVD is now available for purchase at $30. There are a limited number of signed copies, so hurry to purchase them! 

Photo credit: Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film
The Special Edition DVD contains a 40-page booklet with Director’s statement, director’s interview, production notes, behind the scenes photos and full-page film stills. The DVD also includes bonus features like deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Fun fact: there is a deleted scene of the first time Rahim and Aiman meet. 

If you don’t already know, this year-long screening journey started at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. It premiered in the Un Certain Regard section, the same section where Eric Khoo premiered 12 Storeys exactly 20 years ago! After a standing ovation and positive reviews, the film ran the film festival route and never stopped. It has by now been screened at over 60 film festivals around the world. It has also amassed a bouquet of awards. These include Rising Director Award for the film at the 2016 Busan International Film Festival in October; Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema (NETPAC) award at Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival; Best Narrative Film, Interfaith Competition at the St Louis International Film Festival, Special Mention, Acting Ensemble at Hawaii International Film Festival; Critics' Choice Award and the Grand Prix at the Fribourg International Film Festival. 

And if you want to know, it has a 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Inspired by the book ‘Once a Jolly Hangman’ by Alan Shadrake, Apprentice tells the story of Sergeant Aiman who gets transferred to a maximum security prison and incidentally, lands himself in the shoes of the apprentice of the country’s chief executioner, Rahim. Through the process of learning the ropes (pardon the pun) of the job, he confronts ‘state-sanctioned murder’ in the face, his personal past in which his own father was hanged, as well as the moral dilemma of performing the job of pulling the plug. Watching the film will make you marvel at how well-researched the film is and the maturity it displays in dealing with such complex emotions and personal struggles. 

In case you were wondering if they shot this film in Changi Prison, no, in fact Larangan Prison is a “Frankenstein” of a prison, patched together using multiple locations in Singapore and Australia. The Australian set locations are two disused prisons. As Boo Junfeng writes, “The key challenge was in making sure that all the disparate locations matched one another, because in one scene, the characters could be walking from an admin office shot in a Singapore warehouse, through an armoury in Parramatta (an Australian prison), to a walkway in Maitland, and then a gallows corridor at the constructed set in Singapore.” 

Here are excerpts of an earlier review of the film I wrote in December 2016.

‘Offering an enlightened view of the issue of the death penalty and the process involved requires dogged research and maturity in storytelling. As demonstrated from his previous works, director Boo Junfeng's has a penchant for politically conscious stories and a level of understanding quite beyond his age. 'Apprentice' sits right on this same streak but edges much closer to that directorial pot of gold.’
‘In a potentially polarising topic like this, the film shrewdly avoided sensationalising the issue or trying to coerce us into saying this is something to be abolished. It does what the main character, Aiman, does - walk a tight rope (pardon the pun) between hating the system and attempting to see some silver linings.’
‘So the film has all the fixtures that make the death penalty a spine-chilling and harrowing idea - dark corridors, stale-looking walls, heady sound design with a particularly prominent gate-shutting motif, families in distress, a mean-looking executioner and a graphic depiction of the entire process from leaving the death-row cell to the post-execution autopsy. Yet on the other hand, Rahim's little humane gestures, his explanation of how he makes the death painless, his disarming ways with the inmates during their final days, casts a kinder filter on the matter. The result is the kind of unsettlement you get when you see a farmer nourish his cow only to know that he will eventually take its life as well.’ 
Boo Junfeng at the launch of the Apprentice Special Edition DVD

Written by Jeremy Sing and Jacqueline Lee

For the full list of August 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here.
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