"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Friday, June 3, 2016

Cannes 2016, Un Certain Regard: Apprentice, by Boo Junfeng

Aiman, a 28-year-old correctional officer, is transferred to a maximum security prison. He strikes up a friendship with Rahim, who is revealed to be the chief executioner of the prison, and one of the world’s most prolific. Can Aiman overcome his conscience and a past that haunts him to become the executioner’s apprentice? 

SINGAPORE: Boo Junfeng’s sophomore feature Apprentice did not come away completely empty-handed when it failed to pick up an award at the recent Cannes Film Festival.

Following its premiere in the progressive Un Certain Regard section of the festival, where it received positive feedback from film critics and a standing ovation, the prison drama also got picked up for distribution in the UK and Ireland.

Arrow Films, a multi-platform distributor of feature films and TV series, picked up the distribution rights to the film in these markets after being “totally struck by director Boo Junfeng’s power and skilful execution”, according to Arrow’s acquisition director Tom Stewart.

This is yet another feather in Apprentice’s cap, adding on to a packed international theatrical release schedule that includes Poland, Mexico, Turkey, Greece and Hong Kong. Boo’s tale about the relationship between a young correctional officer and the chief executioner of a prison opened in France on Wednesday and is scheduled to hit Singapore cinemas at the end of this month.

“The positive reviews so far have been very helpful.” Boo told Channel NewsAsia. “I'm very happy the film will be seen in cinemas in all these territories. I’m especially thrilled that my friends in the UK will be able to see the film in theatres.”

He revealed that a US theatrical release is also being worked on.

Boo is touted as one of Asia’s fastest rising directorial talents. Apprentice is the follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut Sandcastle and is a Singapore/Germany/France/Hong Kong/Qatar co-production. Shot in both Singapore and Australia, the film is an international collaborative effort with French cinematographer Benoit Soler and British production designer James Page.

It stars Malaysian film and stage veteran Wan Hanafi Su and Singaporean newcomer Firdaus Rahman. Singapore auteur Eric Khoo is executive producer and Akanga Film Asia’s Fran Borgia and Peanut Pictures’ Raymond Phathanavirangoon are serving as producers.

Source: Channel News Asia, June 3, 2016


Who Made It? Boo Junfeng, whose first movie "Sandcastle" appeared at Cannes’ Critics’ Week in 2010.

Why It Might Be Great: Junfeng is one of Asia’s fastest rising directorial talents. The morbid prison drama explores the relationship between the prison’s chief and a young correctional officer. The dynamic between the two should be intriguing due to the casting of veteran Malaysian actor Wan Hanafi Su opposite rookie Fir Rahman. The film is also gathering financial support from countries over the world.

What’s It Doing at Cannes? Junfeng’s debut feature "Sandcastle" was the first Singaporean film to be invited to the International Critics’ Week at Cannes. Given that "Apprentice" is his follow up, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to see his name again.

When Can I See It? If you live outside of the U.S., you are in luck, because Luxbox just picked up the film for international distribution. In addition, it has been acquired for French release by Version Originale Condor and for distribution in Hong Kong by Bravos Pictures. No U.S. distribution has been confirmed.

Source: Indiewire, Bryn Gelbart, May 2016

Singapore death penalty under the spotlight as hangman film stirs emotions at Cannes

Before he made his new film about the death penalty, Boo Junfeng sat down to tea with some of Singapore’s retired hangmen.

He also talked to the priests and imams who helped condemned prisoners make their last walk to the gallows.

And most difficult of all, the young filmmaker spent years trying to reach through the curtain of shame to families who had lost fathers and sons to the hangman’s rope.

But it was only after Boo, whose film was to premiere at the Cannes film festival Monday, met one particularly “humane” executioner that he had an epiphany.

He realised that no movie has ever dealt with the whole horrible business from the perspective of the man who pulls the lever.

“I had already started to write [the film] but after I met the first hangman I couldn’t write for three months. What completely threw me was how much I enjoyed his company,” said Boo.

“He was not like I thought. He was likeable, charismatic, grandfatherly jocular and open about what he did. He took pride in the almost caring way he looked after the prisoners trying to make it as humane as he could, and I realised how difficult that was.

“He really shook up my ideas and forced me to rethink everything.”

So Boo took his film - he toiled over for five years -- one step further.

For Apprentice has a shocking twist. It is the story of a young man who ended up learning the executioner’s trade from the man who opened the trapdoor on his own father.

More surprising still is the intensity of the almost father-son relationship that develops between the young prison guard and the hangman.

“He is in some ways searching for his father,” Boo said. “And in doing that he finds this man. What I was going for was human truth. I didn’t want to make it an activist film.”

The death penalty is nevertheless a hot political issue in Singapore and in neighbouring Indonesia, particularly when foreigners have fallen foul of strict anti-drug smuggling laws.

The execution of seven foreigners in Bali last year - including two Australians and a mentally ill Brazilian - sparked an international outcry, and several others, including a British woman and a Frenchman, are still on death row there.

Boo said he began his research with the book Once a Jolly Hangman which features Darshan Singh, Singapore’s chief executioner for nearly 50 years who once executed 18 men in one day.

Its British author Alan Shadrake was arrested the morning after the book’s Singapore launch in 2010 and was held for a month in Changi prison for insulting the country’s judiciary.

He had criticised the way he claimed the death penalty was disproportionately applied to the poor, while well-connected criminals and wealthy foreigners escaped the noose.

Boo shot the prison scenes in disused prisons in Australia to avoid controversy in the tiny city state, where an estimated 95 per cent of the population still support the death penalty.

“It would have been easy to make a film about the death penalty itself, but it’s much bigger than that. I learned so much about the value of human life” from making the movie.

Boo, 32, one of a new wave of talented Singapore filmmakers, said his friends who are against the death penalty “may be disappointed by the film”, which is showing in the Certain Regard section at Cannes.

“I took myself out of the comfort zone to address the issue from a different point of view. I don’t have a view myself. Because the humanity behind the issue is so much more complex,” [No, it isn't. - DPN] said Boo, whose semi-autobiographical first feature Sandcastle was a hit at the French festival in 2009.

“Apprentice took so long because I had so much to learn, so many things were beyond my experience and very few people really knew (about this world)... And unfortunately almost of them are not around” to tell the tale.

Source: South China Morning Post, May 16, 2016

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