rma 2017 interview boo junfeng on apprentice

Aiman is a 28-year-old Malay correctional officer is recently transferred to Singapore’s top prison. When he is asked, on his first day of work, why he’s chosen this profession, his answer is perfectly Christian and clear: He wants to help those who want to change. However, the real reason has everything to do with his family’s history, which is gradually revealed.  

Analyzing the psyche of the executioner Apprentice offers an inside on the Death Penalty that is not preachy, but instead provides a different point of entry into the discussion. Choosing physical scars over violence and introspection over aggression Bunfeng delivers a prison film that is horrendous and shocking.

[RMA] Did you always know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

[Junfeng] I wanted to be a filmmaker since I was 15! I loved the idea of make-belief, that films can take the audience into a different world, and give people a perspective they otherwise wouldn’t see. Since 15, I’ve wanted to be in filmmaking, but I first started doing art direction and production design when I first went to film school.

[RMA] How did you get the idea for the story?

[Junfeng] I wanted to explore the point of view of an executioner. But instead of looking at someone who is already doing the job, I thought the moral and ethical dilemmas of someone who is about to take on the job would be more interesting to look at. I’m against the death penalty, but I hold the unpopular view where I come from. I felt that a film that is not preachy, but provides a different point of entry into the discussion about the death penalty would be helpful.

[RMA] Why did you name the film Apprentice? It makes sense, because it is about a young man learning a profession, but it is obviously a very shocking profession.

[Junfeng] Because the film is very much about Aiman “learning the ropes” from Rahim. And through that learning, they develop a father-son type of relationship, which pulls Aiman into a deeper dilemma.

[RMA] How did you research the character of Aiman? Have you spoken with executioners?

[Junfeng] Yes, I interviewed a couple of retired executioners and tried to understand where they stood on the issue and how they felt doing their jobs. I also spoke with religious counselors who had walked with inmates on their final walks, and families whose breadwinners had been executed, to understand the kinds of traumas that they might have been through. It was a fascinating journey. The first prison that I got to visit was actually an abandoned prison in Australia called Maitland Gaol. It is now a prison museum. It ended up being one of our filming locations because we couldn’t find locations in Singapore or Southeast Asia that were suitable or available for filming.

[RMA]  Do you believe as a filmmaker it is your responsibility to raise awareness?

[Junfeng] I wouldn’t call it a responsibly. I happen to care about issues that concern human rights and I find a lot of compelling human stories that come from these issues. I believe through films and storytelling, an issue no longer remains just an issue, but a human experience – so it’s not just cerebral or intellectual, but emotional and psychological as well. And that helps people understand things they otherwise wouldn’t understand.

Interview by: Charlotte van Zanten