HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

APPRENTICE -- DVD Review by Porfle

No, this isn't about Donald Trump pointing a finger at someone and saying "You're fired!"  In director Junfeng Boo's APPRENTICE (2016), the business is execution and your pink slip is a noose.

Aiman (Firdaus Rahman) is a young correctional officer in a Malaysian maximum security prison.  His troubled youth, which included a father convicted of and executed for murder, allows him to identify with the rehab prisoners in a friendly and helpful way. 

We like Aiman for this, and worry for him when he seems to be forming a strange obsession with another part of the prison--the area in which inmates convicted of capital crimes are hanged.

His older sister Suhaila, with whom he lives, worries about this ominous change in his behavior too, as this unhealthy fixation leads to his being transferred to the execution block and, eventually, promoted to assistant to the chief executioner, gray-haired prison veteran Rahim. 

Aiman seems like such a decent guy, we hate to watch him quarrel with his sister, whom he loves, over such matters as this and her impending marriage to an Australian man, which will leave Aiman alone.  A further revelation will complicate the matter even more, to an alarming degree.

Meanwhile, Aiman and Rahim become close friends as we watch the older man take the apprentice under his wing and show him the ropes (I had to say it), teaching him everything there is to know about efficiently hanging a man. 

This includes proper equipment and procedure as well as dealing with the individual and his family as human beings, although we discover that the latter may be mainly a way of warding off feelings of guilt, self-recrimination, and uncertainty.

In its own leisurely-paced, matter-of-fact way, APPRENTICE keeps us glued to the screen without the need for big dramatics, a pounding score, or any of the other usual tricks that hold our attention.  Director Junfeng Boo's visual style is deceptively simple, giving scenes a sort of documentary feel even when the images are complex and impeccably designed.

Naturally, the step-by-step execution procedure in which we'll eventually take part is fascinating, moreso since we recognize how deeply Aiman is being affected by it even though we won't know exactly how much so or why until later.  (The most morbid aspect of it for me is the fact that the trap door is right over the morgue.)

There are some suspenseful scenes of Aiman trying to gain access to his father's sealed prison records, and an overall melancholia regarding this and his emotional relationship with Suhaila.  But it's the sudden clash between him and his grizzled mentor Rahim following an explosive revelation that will give the story its final, lasting impact.

APPRENTICE confronts us with an ending that has Aiman suddenly on the brink of the most devastating decision of his life.  We're never really sure of his motives--perhaps he isn't either--but whatever they are, they've led him to the point of no return and a fadeout which, quite appropriately, leaves us hanging.

English/Malay with English subtitles 
96 min
Extras: short film by Junfeng Boo, "The Casuarina Cove"

Buy it at Film Movement


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