Caught in hang­man’s noose

> Boo Jun­feng’s Ap­pren­tice ex­plores the moral im­pli­ca­tions of the death penalty and the role of the ex­e­cu­tioner

The Sun (Malaysia) - - ENTERTAINMENT - BY BISSME S.

SIN­GA­POREAN film­maker Boo Jun­feng took five years to com­plete his lat­est film, Ap­pren­tice, and the end re­sult is noth­ing less than as­tound­ing. Ap­pren­tice bril­liantly de­picts the tor­tured emo­tions that a hang­man goes through while ex­e­cut­ing crim­i­nals in prison. It shows how dif­fi­cult it is to kill an­other hu­man be­ing, even if it is the per­son’s sworn duty.

When the film was screened at a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals ear­lier this year, , in­clud­ing the pres­ti­gious Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, it re­ceived stand­ing ova­tions and rave re­views.

It went on to take home the Net­work for Pro­mo­tion of Asia-Pa­cific Cinema award at The Taipei Golden Horse fes­ti­val, as well as the Best Act­ing En­sem­ble award in Hawaii and the In­ter­faith award in St Louis in the US.

Boo was also named ris­ing di­rec­tor at South Korea’s Bu­san In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in Oc­to­ber.

“I am not ad­vo­cat­ing five years as a nat­u­ral pe­riod for peo­ple to make a film,” says Boo. “But if you want your film to mean any­thing to [your au­di­ence], it de­serves all the time it needs to be made.

“A good film should out­live the film­maker,” he added at the press con­fer­ence af­ter the re­cent Malaysian pre­miere of the film in Kuala Lumpur.

Ap­pren­tice cen­tres on a Sin­ga­porean Malay cor­rec­tional of­fi­cer, Ai­man (played by Sin­ga­porean ac­tor Fir Rah­man), who is re­cently trans­ferred to the ter­ri­tory’s top prison.

At his new work­place, Ai­man, 28, forms a close re­la­tion­ship with Rahim (Malaysian vet­eran Wan Hanafi Su), who is the longserv­ing chief ex­e­cu­tioner at the prison. Rahim later asks Ai­man to be­come his ap­pren­tice.

How­ever, Ai­man is keep­ing a se­cret. His fa­ther was ex­e­cuted by Rahim, a fact which haunts Ai­man and causes him to have mixed feel­ings about his new boss.

Boo does not hide the fact he is against the death penalty. He says: “Fun­da­men­tally, I do not be­lieve the state should have the right to take a life.”

Yet he in­sists he does not push his be­liefs to the au­di­ence in Ap­pren­tice. In­stead, he hopes that the film will spark a healthy de­bate about cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

“It is nec­es­sary for any so­ci­ety to ex­am­ine [cer­tain] is­sues, es­pe­cially if they [re­late to] life and death, from time to time,” he adds.

One of the film’s big­gest strengths is its two leads, Fir and Wan.

To un­der­stand his char­ac­ter, Fir met with a woman whose hus­band was ex­e­cuted. “She told me that her hus­band felt it was bet­ter for him to be hanged, be­cause the longer he stays in the prison the more his fam­ily will suf­fer,” he says.

Mean­while, Wan got to meet an ex­e­cu­tioner to help him get into char­ac­ter. The man turned out to be nice, and that en­cour­aged Wan to put some hu­man­ity and com­pas­sion into his char­ac­ter.

“[The film­mak­ers] gave more em­pha­sis [on prepa­ra­tion],” he says. “Their pre­pro­duc­tion was good ... and [they gave] me a lot of in­put to por­tray my role more con­vinc­ingly.”

Boo, on his part, did a lot of re­search, in­clud­ing read­ing Once a Jolly Hang­man by Alan Shadrake. The con­tro­ver­sial book, which crit­i­cised Sin­ga­pore’s ju­di­cial sys­tem, also in­cluded an in­ter­view with Sin­ga­porean hang­man Dar­shan Singh, who was an ex­e­cu­tioner for over 50 years.

Boo also in­ter­viewed for­mer ex­e­cu­tion­ers, imams and priests who helped death row in­mates in their fi­nal mo­ments prior to their ex­e­cu­tion.

He also met the fam­i­lies of those sen­tenced un­der the death penalty and how they dealt with this bit­ter re­al­ity.

“Be­fore I met the first hang­man, I had al­ready writ­ten the first draft of the script,” Boo says.

“[Af­ter­wards], I re­alised [the hang­man char­ac­ter in my script] was just a car­i­ca­ture. I [ac­tu­ally] liked the hang­man I met in real life ... he [be­came] a per­son to me.”

Some films that do well in in­ter­na­tional film fes­ti­vals may not do as well in their na­tive coun­tries. Luck­ily, Ap­pren­tice seems to have struck the right chord.

“The re­ac­tion in Sin­ga­pore was bet­ter than ex­pected,” Boo says. “A lot of peo­ple stayed [un­til the] end of the cred­its, [hop­ing] to see an ex­tra scene.”

Boo even asked sev­eral cinema op­er­a­tors in Sin­ga­pore to leave the lights off for a few sec­onds longer once the film is over, to al­low the au­di­ence to sit in the dark and pon­der the is­sues de­picted in the film.

Ap­pren­tice is now play­ing in cin­e­mas. Car­pool Karaoke of The Late Late Show with James Cor­den.

The 18 months he spent as a Bri­tish tele­vi­sion host in the US has led to this ap­point­ment pre­sent­ing the 59th Grammy Awards on Feb 12.

“Thanks to Car­pool Karaoke, we’ve all been on some in­cred­i­ble rides with James, and The Record­ing Late Late Show. Cor­den hosted the Tony Awards in June; by Septem­ber, The Late Late Show Car­pool Karaoke Prime­time Spe­cial had won an Emmy for Out­stand­ing Va­ri­ety, Mu­sic Or Com­edy Spe­cial. – AFPRe­laxnews

ZULFADHLI ZAKI/ THESUN

(left) Boo … hopes his film, Ap­pren­tice (top), will spark a healthy de­bate about cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment among the pub­lic.

Ap­pren­tice stars (bot­tom, from left) Fir and Wan.

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