A Job at Prison
Aiman (Fir Rahman) is a 28-year-old correctional officer who lives with his older sister, Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad). He gets a new job at Larangan Prison and there meets the chief executioner, Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su), who happened to be the same executioner who hung his father at the prison years ago. Aiman did not disclose that in his job application and he experiences conflicting feelings when Rahim asks him if he wants to accept the job as his assistant.
This is a slow moving film as per the direction by Boo Junfeng who also wrote the screenplay. He also doesn’t, at first, explain why Aiman transferred to work at Larangan Prison right away. Once we learn the truth, we might expect this to become a thriller but that is not the case. Instead the film is unpredictable, profound and human and subdues the thriller elements. We go inside Aiman’s head as he struggles with the tough moral decision of whether or not to accept Rahim’s job offer as assistant executioner.
We see Rahim as a flawed human being doing his job. I will not spoil the film by saying what happens when Aiman confronts and questions his morals. This is prison drama about a hero who serves as the audience surrogate and who learns l the austere, ritualistic code of conduct for governing a world that’s dangerous for most people. The focus here is on Aiman Yusof, a prison officer with a vocational background who’s transferred from the commonwealth to a maximum-security prison with the intention of teaching convicts new trades for rehabilitation. Aiman is compelled by a new profession himself and he is drawn to the forbidden Wing E, where the prison’s chief executioner, plies his craft of hanging criminals in a practice that reaches back to British colonial times.
Aiman as the new executioner holds idealistic pretenses of rehabilitation that are cloaked in doom and we really see this as the camera moves the corridors of Wing E during the preparation for an execution. Most viewers are drawn to the intricacies of process, and director Junfeng lingers on the dehumanizing details of state-sanctioned executions, recognizing each formality as encouraging distance—on the part of the guards as well as the convicts—from the ramifications of death. We see that the way convicts are treated before they are hung is quite important in terms of deciding the length of the hanging rope. We see a telling, teasing glimpse of the gallows: and a trap door on the floor of a warehouse. We also see Aiman in his new office, with barred windows that suggest that he’s as much a prisoner as any of his charges.
This idea of self-imprisonment pervades the film and we get details about Aiman’s life through bits of dialogue and show that he has lived in an intrusive security state with little patience for ambiguity or nuance. Aiman, himself, was once a juvenile delinquent who found comfort in the unforgiving atmosphere of the military. Aiman is a highly sensitive man with a chip on his shoulder that could change his sensitivity into a propensity for violence. Rahim recognizes this and sees Aiman as a kindred spirit and recruits the young man as his apprentice.
Much of “Apprentice” is composed of disillusioned faces—namely Aiman and Rahim’s, which are often partially obscured by their chain smoking. We see the toil that killing takes on the killers especially by divorcing them from conventional society.
The irony and tragedy of the film is that Aiman is acquainted with this sort of alienation before his career change, perhaps through his time at the army but also through a secret connection to Rahim. Aiman’s sister, Suhaila has a life, of which she wants Aiman to be a part, but he retreats and devotes himself to his hopeless job and to exercising—hardening himself. Rahim sees this pain and implicitly offers Aiman a sort of qualified requiem:
Rahim’s knowledge of hanging is shocking and fascinating. I cannot erase how Rahim elaborated on how to tie the rope’s knot, and where to place the knot on the neck. The length of the rope can determine how the convict is precisely killed, whether their neck or spine is snapped on impact, or whether they’re slowly strangled to death. The ideal hanging decisively snaps the upper spine, yielding an instantaneous “humane” death. This is considered as a triumph in Rahim’s profession. Tying these images and descriptions together gives us the sounds of death in motion. The leads’ performances are extraordinarily subtle and heartbreaking performances yet they keep this process tied to a mysterious human element.