Rahim the hangman (Wan Hanafi Su) caresses the second and third vertebrae on the back of his apprentice’s neck. If it’s a clean death, an instantaneous one, those bones will emit a cracking sound. He takes a ruthless sense of pride in explaining the intricacies of his profession, like how he fashions the noose according to the calculation of each condemned man’s body weight.
When it comes to creating an efficient gallows, this hangman is a master builder. His latest apprentice Aiman (Firdaus Rahman), a new hire at the prison, is a reluctant disciple. When he was a child, Rahim hanged his father, a convicted murderer. Because of this shared history, the director Junfeng Boo builds psychological suspense in multiple ways. As he begins to learn the trade, Aiman is forced to confront his father’s crime — and his punishment — from close up inside. Shot in Singapore and Australia, the humidity of place also informs the atmosphere: Everyone is dampened by a guilt-ridden sweat.
And kudos are due to James Page, the production designer. He painstakingly unifies each frame of Apprentice by saturating the sets with the color green. It seeps out of the tropical plants swaying freely at the edges of the lens, and then creeps along the painted cell walls, up into the ceiling fans, even crawling inside the neon numbers of a digital clock.
Opens Friday at the 4-Star Theatre.