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Although director Boo Junfeng's The Apprentice did not win any awards in Cannes, he is grateful for the platform for his debut.

Mining the dark side in Apprentice

Jul 1, 2016 5:50 AM

BOO JUNFENG is not one to rush things. Whether it's making films or answering a question at a press conference, the soft-spoken homegrown writer-director - who according to his cast is equally mild-mannered but firm on set - takes his time.

"A good film will outlive you as a filmmaker and we need to understand that the time and space to make one should not be underestimated," explains the 32-year-old, who spent five years making Apprentice, the follow-up to his highly acclaimed debut, Sandcastle (2010).

That long break is a luxury for a relatively new director like Boo but he adds that things are moving in the right direction with more producers now realising things should not be rushed: "I see that as an encouraging sign that we don't need to have tight timelines in order to churn out productions."

Boo reveals three years was spent developing, researching and writing Apprentice before cameras started rolling in Singapore and Australia, and another was devoted to editing his sophomore effort.

The film is a five-country co-production with investors from Singapore, Germany, France, Hong Kong and Qatar. Its S$1.8 million budget is partly funded by the Media Development Authority, from its Development Assistance and Production Assistance schemes.

Both Sandcastle and Apprentice have received critical acclaim at Cannes and the latter, which was shown under the prestigious Un Certain Regard category, opened here on Thursday.

Boo adds that the time he took to make his new movie allowed him to mature: "I learnt a lot personally - not only as a filmmaker but also as a person. I've grown to understand things that I never understood, and seen facets of humanity that I haven't seen before."

The Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Puttnam School of Film at the Lasalle College of the Arts graduate wrote the story after interviewing former executioners, religious counsellors who encountered death-row inmates, as well as families who have lost members to the death penalty.

The plot revolves around young officer Aiman (local TV and stage actor Fir Rahman) learning the ropes, literally, from seasoned and cynical prison hangman Rahim (Malaysian cinema veteran Wan Hanafi Su) - the same man who executed the former's father years ago.

The contentious issue of capital punishment looms large and while Boo agrees that has helped raise the profile of his film - which is also playing in France, Mexico, Turkey and Hong Kong and will be opening in Poland and the UK - he insists his work goes beyond the subject matter.

"I was going for an understanding of the human psyche behind it," he explains. "In many societies where the death penalty is practised, we often forget that there is a person - a human being - who is empowered to kill and I was curious to see how he sees himself in this moral and ethical equation."

Hence, the human story behind the job rather than the issue of the death penalty was more interesting to him, he adds.

Although Apprentice did not win a prize at Cannes, Boo says he is not disheartened: "If we start defining how good a film is purely by awards, I think we will miss a lot of good films."

Instead, he is encouraged by the positive response and grateful to be given the platform to debut the dark psychological drama there with the lead actors, including local TV actress and host Mastura Ahmad, in tow.

"It was meaningful for me to bring the cast along to Cannes so with or without any awards, the journey itself was rewarding," he quips.