Apprentice

Aiman is a 28-year-old Malay correctional officer who is recently transferred to the territory’s top prison. Aiman lives with his older sister Suhaila in a modest housing estate. At his new workplace, Aiman begins to take an interest in a 65-year-old sergeant named Rahim. Soon, it is revealed that the charismatic Rahim is actually the long-serving chief executioner of the prison. Rahim also takes notice of the principled and diligent Aiman. When Rahim’s assistant suddenly quits, he asks Aiman to become his apprentice. Aiman tells Suhaila of his new job position, but Suhaila becomes upset, as their father was actually executed by Rahim. Aiman knew this all along. Can Aiman overcome his conscience and a haunted past to possibly take over as the next chief executioner?

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  • ★★★★ review by Kirat on Letterboxd

    Fantastic film. Now THIS is how you do arthouse cinema. THIS is a production with a good script, proper execution, solid plot and enough, but not too much, narrative tension to move the story forward. Stellar performances from all three leads - Firdaus Rahman, Wan Hanafi Su and Mastura Ahmad all seemed to fall into their roles with ease. Even the dynamics between them felt natural. It would've been very easy for this film to turn into an activisty preachy polemic, but that it didn't is a credit to the writers and producers. A little suspension of disbelief is required - the odds of someone escaping security checks within the highly-regulated Singapore civil service and getting as far within the system as Aiman does before being noticed is highly improbably. Still, the possibilities within that explored in the film are worth considering. I liked the storyline's exploration of the absent father-struggling son dynamic, the arcs of the angry young man and stoic caring woman, the ways in which characters grappled with the ethical dilemmas they found their lives in. And beautifully soundtracked by The Observatory (my only complaint is there should have been more sound!).

  • ★★★★ review by Caproni on Letterboxd

    To undergo a trip that's as unbelievably tense as this and one that is photographed in such dark a manner as the downward spiral of the journey the main character's in, is a rare cinematic treat nowadays and it's even rarer to know that it's expertly-crafted by a filmmaker who practically hails from a country located mere 6 hours away from ours. Writer-director Boo Junfeng has made a film that speaks volume despite its solemn framing and abrupt cut-aways; one that comments on the judiciary stature of his own country and a strong, engaging portrait of a morally-conflicted man. And that final scene is going to be in my waking mind for days to come. Such a fine movie.

    The moment we got out of this was the moment we all ask ourselves: as film practitioners here in Malaysia, where do we even go from here?

  • ★★★★ review by ipacoxt on Letterboxd

    spiralling intense jpurney, still good one though

  • ★★★★½ review by Irvin Malcolm on Letterboxd

    A young man in Singapore gets a job as a prison guard at maximum security then becomes the apprentice/assistant of the chief hangman/executioner of the prison and he learns the ropes, so to speak. This is Singapore's entry for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race. This death penalty drama is quite compelling and is quiet in its emotions. Though it is clearly on the anti-death penalty side of things, it is beautifully nuanced and willing to inspire meaningful dialogue. i must say, Singapore is doing some interesting cinematic work lately.

  • ★★★½ review by Adam G on Letterboxd

    The recipient of an unexpected standing ovation following its Cannes Film Festival premiere, Singaporean filmmaker Boo Junfeng's powerful second feature film is a bold and brave psychological drama tackling major subjects of great relevance and controversy: Singapore's judicial system and Capital punishment.

    However, as admirable and brave a work as it undoubtedly proves, the film does at times find itself slightly lacking in direction and clarity, with unnecessary padding diluting the raw emotional power that naturally exudes from the subject and central setting.

    The film centres around Aiman, an inexperienced young Malay correctional officer and former soldier who has recently been transferred to the state's maximum security prison. Shortly after arriving he is taken under the wing of Senior Sergeant Rahim, the prison's regimented and unflinching Chief Executioner, who soon taps him up to be his new apprentice. Though eager to prove himself and face up to a troubled past, a dark connection to his new teacher, combined with disdain from his disapproving elder sister Suhaila leads Aiman to significantly question his new career path and his own moral conscience.

    In exploring the moral and emotional effects of the death penalty from an executioner's point of view, Boo keeps the film grounded, neutral and totally human, staying well clear of all the familiar prison film traits and clichés, but the prison scenes are by far the most intriguing and engaging sequences (if not always the most comfortable) and unfortunately Boo moves the action away from the prison confines far too often.

    Respectful of the controversial subject matter, cinematographer Benoit Soler lenses the film with a delicacy and a gentle, observational manner, never allowing the image to feel too invasive and using extended takes to heighten the sense of anxiety and the character's various psychological states of mind.

    The MVPs here however are without doubt the sound department who do an extraordinary job in ensuring the intensity and unsettling atmosphere of the prison environment is as palpable and unnerving as could be hoped for. From the deafening crash of the gallows, to the crisp sound of footsteps on the cold prison stone, the echoing clank of keys and creaking metal doors, the roaring of car engines and the disquieting ambience of the prison corridors in general, all sounds and effects are rendered with great precision and remarkable authenticity courtesy of sound effects editor Maiken Hansen, supervising sound editor Ting Li Lim and re-recording mixer Warren Santiago.

    The film has been selected as the Singaporean entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year's 89th Academy Awards, but despite widespread critical acclaim it is up against some very steep competition: Clash and Aquarius, to name just two.

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