Death penalty is legal in Singapore and more than 80% of its population is in favour of this sanction. Therefore, making a movie that opens up the debate on death penalty in a country where most of its population is in favour of this issue seems irrelevant, however, the film Apprentice (2016) directed by Junfeng Boo succeeds in doing so.
Apprentice presents the story of prison officer Sergeant Aiman (Firdaus Rahman) who just has been transferred to Larangan Prison, which is a maximum security prison. This place is the same one where his father was sentenced to death. Here he meets Chief Executioner, Senior Chief Warder Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su) – the person who hanged his father. Aiman knows about this but keeps it a secret from the other officers. He becomes close to Chief Warder who appoints him as his new apprentice and successor. Aiman’s decision to continue with this job disrupts the relationship between him and his sister Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad). He seems troubled as he becomes close with the ‘the hangman’. Aiman is trapped in the decision whether to become the new executioner or not, recalling memories of the past, and affecting the relation between him and his sister.
This film questions whether the death penalty is fair, as it shows the puzzled perspective of Aiman who struggles with the sanction of his father and the effect it had on his family. Aiman becomes an eyewitness of the whole process from within and outside the prison, as he also has compassion for the families that are left behind without a father such as his.
The powerful scenes are meticulously arranged in which the camera movements, lighting, and actors take the spotlight, which creates a gloomy and terrifying setting, such as the corridors to the ‘death chamber’. Through Aiman’s perspective the viewer immerses into a world that has often been omitted from the screen, i.e. the executioner’s viewpoint on the matter of death penalty. However, the film addresses other issues that are intertwined in the narrative and cinematography, such as minorities in Singapore (in the case of the Malay cultural background), and pressure (governmental but also peer-pressure). In short, Apprentice is certainly worth watching, and for those who like the ‘other side of the story’, this film is the perfect recommendation.
Cover Image: Screenshot Apprentice – Aiman and the hangman.