STOP10: Ropes that won't let you go, in 'Apprentice'

Apprentice Cannes Film Festival

In Singapore, there are 14 prisons and rehabilitation centres all around the island. However, as a Singaporean myself, I am unable to accurately tell you where they are, how they look like outside and in. Or even who’s there and if all they are is immorality personified, as most media would generally colour them that way.
Born and bred here, it is easy to look past and forget about the marginalised or what the mainstream media chooses to leave out. Out of sight, out of mind and regular lives go on while we direct our attention away from the people we do not understand or have cast aside. Now that I am older, I myself finally having the individual power to seek out answers and go closer to the places avoided.
Can I say that I know more than before? No, but my heart has shifted slightly after seeing a different sky and there simply isn’t a way to go back to how my world view used to be.
Apprentice still #11 (Joseph Nair).jpg
Apprentice, directed by Boo Junfeng, is the closest encounter I have ever had with the justice system. For a country known for its law-abiding tyranny, the system itself seems far away from me and almost unfamiliar. I have only heard, read and wondered about the news. In some ways, this is complete privilege and I know I can do better to educate myself if I really wanted to.
Showing glimpses of a family that lost a loved one to the death penalty, the film follows 28 year old Malay correctional officer Aiman who chooses to go close to the prison that took away his father’s life. And the person the law entrusted the job – 65 year old sergeant Rahim. Aiman becomes an apprentice of the job after the most recent assistant quit. Battling his haunted past and the conflicts of the death penalty itself, Apprentice sheds light on the prison through its people and the stories that simply do not end.
I have watched this 96 minute film last year and its brooding nature still stays with me to this day. Its introspective nature grows on you and beckons you to let down your guard, come closer and learn a thing or two. Before leaving you alone after the short encounter.
But its presence stays with you.
Apprentice still #8 (Joseph Nair).jpg
Every now and then, I catch myself revisiting the scenes that disturb me the most. For example, the cigarette smoke dancing quietly in Rahim’s office or Aiman examining the rope – the details of the ropes’ roughness, thickness and knots. I also remember the corridors that seem to go on forever. The echoes of footsteps, or life, walking away.
Though these descriptions might be taken from the scenes of the prison itself, it is naïve to think that the effects are left only there. The feelings of loss get carried home and starts living with you. This part sat with me for the longest time, and somehow the film managed to capture the essence of unspoken grief, anger and confusion in its scenes.
Apprentice still #18 (Olivia Kwok).jpgApprentice does not flinch away from character complexity, diving straight in and trusting that the viewers know how to swim. That freedom to develop my own understanding and to make my own answers is a privilege I appreciated, for it is easy to force feed a fixed perspective when speaking about a topic that’s deemed complicated and controversial. However, I lose my power of words to accurately grasp what exactly I feel or how I came to feel this way.
Still finding myself after the brief touch of this film, maybe I will be ready to reconnect again in the near future and be able to say: I know you now.
And really mean it.

Check out which other films made our list of the 10 Most Life-Changing Southeast Asian films.

Written by Dawn Teo

Dawn. 1994. Thespian. Eats art for breakfast. Writes and has conversations.
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