How does one go about making a film about being an executioner? As Boo Junfeng, director of Apprentice, will tell you, it took him five years, during which he interviewed retired executioners, religious counsellors, and family members of those who have received the death sentence.

The latest film of Singapore’s critically acclaimed Boo focuses not just on the death penalty, but the point of view of the person empowered to execute: the hangman.

Wan Hanafi Su is the chief executioner in Apprentice. (Credit: Golden Village Pictures)

Wan Hanafi Su is the chief executioner in Apprentice. (Credit: Golden Village Pictures)

The story revolves around Aiman (Firdaus Rahman), a 28-year-old Malay correctional officer whose unspeakable past catches up with him when he is transferred to Larangan Prison. At his new workplace, Aiman finds ways to get close to a 65-year-old sergeant named Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su) – the chief executioner who hanged Aiman’s father before Aiman was born. But Aiman is not going to let his family history stop him from becoming the executioner’s apprentice… Or is he?

Aiman tries to connect with a death row inmate on the day before execution. (Credit: Golden Village Pictures)

Aiman tries to connect with a death row inmate on the day before execution. (Credit: Golden Village Pictures)

At the end of this 1.5 h film, you might have more questions than Aiman has answers himself. And that’s what a Golden Village Blog Aloud session is for!A full-house audience had the honour of meeting Boo himself at a Blog Aloud session last Tuesday, and here are some of the questions he answered. (Please note that Boo’s answers have been edited for brevity, and are not verbatim.)

1. Why did you choose to write a story about hanging?

The death penalty is something I’ve been concerned about for a very long time. When I decided to make my second film about it, I didn’t want to make it from the point of view of a prisoner, which has been done before. I’m curious about someone who is empowered to kill. In many countries where the death penalty is still practised, we often forget that someone is responsible for the execution. What is his psyche? That’s what my film is about.

2. Is your film inspired by a specific case which happened in real life?

No, not really. The book Once A Jolly Hangman by Alan Shadrake was informative to some degree, but I didn’t base Apprentice off existing literature. Over the course of making the film, I met lots of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise and understood life a little bit more. I spoke with former executioners, religious counsellors who have been with the executed during their final walk, and families who shared the traumas that they went through.

It took them a lot of courage to decide to speak with me. They’ve been through a lot and had a lot of stories they wanted to tell. It wasn’t just about finding out facts, but also their emotions.

3. How did you get the authorities to cooperate with you?

The film was shot across Singapore and in and around Sydney. The prison yard scenes were shot in an empty prison so we had complete control over the set without having to worry about security issues. Different parts of the prison were filmed in different locations and then stitched together by a wonderful production design team to make Larangan Prison.

Firdaus Rahman inside the prison yard of Larangan Prison. This was actually shot in Sydney, Australia.

Firdaus Rahman inside the prison yard of Larangan Prison. This was actually shot in Sydney, Australia. (Credit: Golden Village Pictures)

When I submitted the script for development funds from the Media Development Authority, I thought that the chance of success was 50/50. I was pleasantly surprised. The approval came back with one line: “Make sure you research properly.” And research properly I did.

4. How did you cast your two leads and how did you get them into the mood?

I was casting colour blind and didn’t care about race actually. The script was originally written in English and I just wanted to look for two actors who had chemistry. When Firdaus Rahman and Wan Hanafi Su hit it off we decided that the film was going to be in Malay. It made things a lot easier for the roles. It took a week to workshop; I made them spend a few days in a chalet to do stupid things together. I also got them to attend a rope workshop to understand how to tie the ropes. There’s something very sexy about the sound of the ropes and I wanted the actors to feel that.

For those of you who missed the chance to interact with Boo at last week’s session, there’s another one happening this Thursday (June 30), 6.45 pm at GV Plaza. The film will be screened first, followed by the Q&A with Boo.

Director Boo Jun Feng fielding questions from an inquisitive audience.

Director Boo Jun Feng fielding questions from an inquisitive audience.

The Popping Post is giving away three pairs of tickets to this event! Simply write to [email protected] with a burning question you might have for Boo, and you might be one of the lucky chosen three. Please include your full name and a handphone number we can contact you at. Contest closes on Thursday 12 noon.