Apprentice at Cannes 2016: 5 things you need to know

Flying the flag

Text: Adibah Isa

Image: Getty Images,
Meg White,
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An Official Selection of the Un Certain Regard at Cannes Film Festival 2016, Singaporean Boo Junfeng’s film Apprentice brought actors Fir Rahman, Mastura Ahmad and Wan Hanafi Su to the world stage. Here's everything you need to know about Apprentice

While yesterday's announcement of the winners from Cannes Film Festival 2016's Un Certain Regard didn't include Apprentice — Finnish boxing biopic The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki took top honours — Singaporean filmmaker Boo Junfeng still has a lot to be proud of. His second feature film (his first was Sandcastle, which premiered at the International Critics' Week at Cannes 2010) Apprentice has garnered positive reviews from critics, with The Hollywood Reporter praising the film as a "Cannes Hidden Gem", while another stated that it "passes with flying colours".

A film centering on capital punishment, Apprentice stars Fir Rahman as Aiman, Wan Hanafi Su as the executioner and Mastura Ahmad as Aiman's sister. Boo's a past winner of the Singapore International Film Festival, one of the events under The Singapore Media Festival which will run its third edition from 23 November to 9 December. Here's everything you need to know about Apprentice, which will hit theatres here on 30 June. 

1. It's not just a film about capital punishment

A story about Aiman, a correctional officer who recently transferred to Singapore's top prison, Apprentice sees the impressionable young man forging a bond with the prison's chief executioner who asks Aiman to become his apprentice — much to the disappointment of his older sister, who's Australia-bound. The other catch? Aiman's own father was executed by the death penalty. Critics have praised the film not just for its ability to straddle issues on morality and ethics, but also for its perspective on the families affected by capital punishment and Singapore's justice system.

Mastura Ahmad in Apprentice

2. Boo Junfeng never intended for the lead characters to be Malay

In fact, the director invited actors of different races to audition. Eventually, he found that the best chemistry lied between Wan Hanafi Su and Fir Rahman, and decided to rewrite the script to include cultural and racial nuances. Apprentice is Rahman's first film — a relative newcomer to the scene, he was the winner of Suria's New Face category in the talent competition Juara. Su is a veteran name in his native Malaysia, while Ahmad is one of Singapore's most competent Malay female leads, with dramatic and comedic roles in theatre, television and film.

Wan Hanafi Su, Boo Junfeng, Mastura Ahmad and Fir Rahman at the photo call for Apprentice

3. Benoit Soler, Apprentice's director of photography was mentored by the cinematographers of Trainspotting, Billy Elliot and Shame

A graduate of the National Film and Television School in the UK, he was mentored by Brian Tufano, who worked on Trainspotting (1996) and Billy Elliot (2000); as well as Sean Bobbitt, the cinematographer behind Shame (2011). Soler also worked on Singaporean Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo, which premiered at the Directors Fortnight in Cannes Film Festival 2013 and won the Caméra d'Or.

Apprentice was shot over two months in 2014 in Singapore and Australia

Boo and his team researched on gallow designs from the executioners they interviewed. They also looked at whatever information was available to the public on decommissioned gallows. Eventually, the two-storey gallows were built in an abandoned building in Singapore. While the offices, archives, locker room and stairwells were filmed in Singapore, the prison yards, cellblocks, armoury and watchtowers were shot at the decommissioned facilities of Maitland Gaol and Parramatta Correctional Centre in Australia.

Fir Rahman in Apprentice

5. Boo and his team interviewed a bunch of actual executioners for research

To examine the complexity of the issues surrounding capital punishment, Boo and his team spent four years in research and production. Among the individuals they met were former executioners and religious counselors who have worked inside the system. The team also spoke to the families who've lost their breadwinners through execution. "The ones whom I had interviewed took pride in what they did," said the director of the former executioners he met. "What I found most shocking was how likable they were, and how normal their lives seemed to be — as parents, as co-workers and as citizens."

Wan Hanafi Su in Apprentice

For more information on Apprentice, click here.