Review: APPRENTICE (2016) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Review: APPRENTICE (2016)

Review: APPRENTICE (2016)

APPRENTICE centres on a 28-year-old correctional officer named Aiman (Fir Rahman), who settled for a new job in a Singapore's maximum-security prison. From there, he finds himself gradually working as an assistant to Chief Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su), the prison's senior executioner. And it turns out that Chief Rahim was the same person who hanged Aiman's father for committing murder thirty years prior.

REVIEW: Prison movies are a dime a dozen, but how often you get to watch a similar genre told in an executioner's point of view? In this second feature-length effort by Singaporean director Boo Junfeng (2010's SANDCASTLE), he offers a captivating insider's look on how an executioner performing his duty inside the prison. From choosing the right type of rope to setting up the hanging device, every process is presented in a meticulous detail. Even if you are not familiar with the executioner's standard procedure, Junfeng ensures everything is easily comprehensible in a layman's terms.

But what really makes APPRENTICE such an absorbing piece of work is the complicated mentor-apprentice relationship between Chief Rahim and Aiman. While the basis of the story looks as if Aiman's intention to work in a prison is to exact revenge against Chief Rahim for hanging his father thirty years ago, Junfeng doesn't exactly aim for the obvious. Instead, Junfeng goes deep with the twisted psychological aspect whereby the relationship between Chief Rahim and Aiman is told in an abstract manner. Here, Junfeng emphasised on the power of ambiguity and minimalism that makes you ponder with questions after questions as you watch the movie. For instance, why Aiman bother to get up close and personal with Chief Rahim? Why Aiman holds such a huge grudge against Chief Rahim, who is responsible for hanging his father thirty years ago? Is there an injustice happens somewhere in between? Although such ambiguous approach might frustrate those who like to be spoon-fed with obvious answers, this is what actually makes APPRENTICE profoundly unique. It was no doubt a refreshing change of pace from your usual revenge drama. Elsewhere, Junfeng manages to slip in a riveting subplot involving the family conflicts between Aiman and his older sister, Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad).

Review: APPRENTICE (2016)

Of course, the ambiguous nature of the story wouldn't have worked if not for the great cast played by Fir Rahman and Wan Hanafi Su. Singaporean actor Fir Rahman is intensely stoic as Aiman, while Malaysian TV and movie veteran Wan Hanafi Su gives a late career-defining performance as Chief Rahim. In fact, they are the main reasons that glued the movie altogether. Even though Fir Rahman and Wan Hanafi Su are the primary focus of the movie, Mastura Ahmad is given sufficient room to deliver a solid support as Aiman's estranged older sister who wants to move on with her new life.

Equally worth praising here is the strong technical aspect of this movie. Benoit Soler's atmospheric cinematography perfectly captured the morbid nature of the subject matter with subtle uses of shadows and long takes. James Page's production design, which was shot largely in actual prison facilities in New South Wales, Australia, is seamlessly integrated together with different settings in Singapore.

A slow burn but absorbing, yet emotionally-captivating prison drama blessed with a terrific principal cast by Fir Rahman and Wan Hanafi Su.

* This review is written courtesy from GSC press screening *

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