By Tom Eckert
Apprentice, is film set in Singapore which remains one of the few developed nations that retains capital punishment and the death penalty.
The story follows a young man working as a prison guard as he moves between home and work embodying a claustrophobic existence not far removed from the men he guards.
He is a recent transfer to the prison having spent time in the military as a regular and in other prisons. He describes a past of gangs and drugs and violence, believing that it is only a thin thread of fate that has him on the better side of the bars. This he all reveals to the hangman. The man responsible for the execution of death-row inmates, a man of precision and conviction that appreciates those same values in others. The same man that hung the protagonist’s father for his crimes.
Our protagonist does everything he can to get closer to this man and through a Freudian twist ultimately becomes the titular apprentice of the hangman himself.
With a yellow-hued palette summoning the weight and oppressive heat of Singapore weighing on the characters, the cinematography impeccably summons the restrictive environment of both actual and self imposed prisons – the camera shots getting increasingly tighter as the film progressed towards its increasingly foregone conclusion.
Sound is used to great effect, mostly absent and all the more effective when it was there.
The narrative is one of clearly focused personal drama involving characters that are subdued and all the more believable for it. The acting was refreshingly subtle, relying heavily on bodily expression and placing great faith in the ‘show-don’t-tell’ ethos.
The narrative is strongly supported but an impressive array of subtle and well executed visual metaphor.
The film as a whole deals with grand themes of life and death and capital punishment without lowering itself to the sentimental and philosophising ad nauseum that can so often be seen in similar works.
A clearly focused narrative that is character-centred and supported by well considered cinematography and sound without indulging in the over-the-top spectacle that is rampant through modern cinema. A refreshing and well-executed film.
Kryztoff rating: 4K