I cried at the end of this film, I’m not sure why. There is a quiet reverence to it and beauty that is at odds with its setting. By Singaporean director Boo Junfeng, the setting is a Malay maximum security prison where Aiman has just begun work as a guard. He seems kind, conscientious, though emotionally distant from his only sister. Soon he is taken under the wing of Rahim, the prison executioner, who teaches him how to ‘kill well’, with the least pain and the most compassion.
With Aiman, we see the difficulty of this role, meting out the same experience for every condemned man, understanding their frailty but also the inevitability of the consequences of their actions. There is a scene where Aiman must wake a man and lead him to the gallows. The intimacy of sharing that moment, the unbroken gaze of a man who knows he is about to die is emotionally searing.
The complexity of this story comes with the revelation that Aiman’s father, who he never knew, was executed years before by Rahim. Although never elucidated, we see Aiman watching the other condemned men, seeing those who have loving family who visit them and those who don’t, grappling with the morality of giving the same quick death to monsters and drug mules.
The natural lighting used is gorgeous, particularly the variations in colour temperature of artificial light. There is some beautiful, fluid camerawork and use of shifting depth of field. Some of the developments of the plot are a little pat, particularly in the more dramatic interactions with Rahim, but I could forgive that for the largely subtle and restrained exploration of courage, forgiveness and personal morality. The ending, though not surprising, felt completely right.
Bechdel test – fail