SINGAPORE - 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 that 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 on June 13 afternoon.
"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).
It will open in Singapore on June 30. It has yet to be given a classification 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, playing the 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, rating TBA) opens June 30.
There is a Blog-Aloud early screening on June 21 at 7.15 pm at GV Plaza, tickets $15. Writer-director Boo Junfeng will be present for questions from the audience. For details, see gv.com.sg