Apprentice more than about death penalty

Apprentice is written and directed by Boo Junfeng (above, third from left, seen in Cannes with cast members Fir Rahman, Mastura Ahmad and Wan Hanafi Su).
Apprentice is written and directed by Boo Junfeng (above, third from left, seen in Cannes with cast members Fir Rahman, Mastura Ahmad and Wan Hanafi Su).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Apprentice (above) is written and directed by Boo Junfeng (seen in Cannes with cast members Fir Rahman, Mastura Ahmad and Wan Hanafi Su).
Apprentice (above) is written and directed by Boo Junfeng (seen in Cannes with cast members Fir Rahman, Mastura Ahmad and Wan Hanafi Su).PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

In the movie Apprentice, characters are surrounded by death.

More specifically, they deal with deaths that happen because of the death penalty.

The topic might be fraught with controversy, but writer-director Boo Junfeng wants to steer clear of making moral points.

"The themes are larger than that topic," he says.

"Capital punishment is something that I have always been concerned with and I wanted to tell a story about it," says the 32-year-old film-maker, who last month saw the film make the official selection in the Un Certain Regard section at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival.

"The point of view I wanted to take was not going to come from the prisoners. I feel we have seen films like that before.

"I had a genuine curiosity about someone who is actually empowered to kill," says Boo at a press conference at the Parkroyal on Pickering hotel yesterday.

"We forget that in many societies around the world with the death penalty, there is a group of people who have to kill. What is the psyche behind that? That was something I was curious about."

Singapore actor Fir Rahman plays Aiman, a young prison officer who is taken under the supervision of senior officer and hangman Rahim, played by Malaysian actor Wan Hanafi Su.

Aiman's own life has been marked by the shadow of the death penalty, a fact that colours his relationship with Rahim and his sister, Suhaila, played by local actress Mastura Ahmad.

The film is Boo Junfeng's second feature, after the critically acclaimed Sandcastle (2010).

Apprentice will open in Singapore on June 30. It has been rated M18 by the Media Development Authority.

In Boo's early draft of the screenplay, the hangman was a "caricature", a person "with a certain darkness". But after speaking to a former executioner in Singapore, he revised the depiction.

"After meeting him, I realised this was a person. Of course, there are still moments of darkness to Rahim's character, but that does not define him as a person," he says.

Wan Hanafi Su, who plays veteran officer Rahim, also met the former hangman as well as prison religious counsellors who administer to the condemned. He was impressed by the care Boo took to make sure the actors were thoroughly prepared.

"It told me that this was a serious production," he says.

•Apprentice (96 minutes, M18) opens on June 30.

•There is a Blog-Aloud early screening on June 21 at GV Plaza at 7.15pm. Tickets are at $15. Writer-director Boo Junfeng will be present to take questions from the audience. For details, go to gv.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Apprentice more than about death penalty'. Print Edition | Subscribe