Aiman (Fir Rahman), a 28-year-old correctional officer living with his older sister, Suhaila (Mastura Ahmad), gets a new job at Larangan Prison. He meets the chief executioner, Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su), who happened to be the same executioner who hanged his father at the prison years ago, but he did not disclose that in his job application. Aiman experiences conflicting feelings when Rahim asks him if he wants to accept the job as his assistant.
Writer/director Boo Junfeng trusts the audience's patience because he moves the film along at a leisurely pace and doesn't reveal the real reason why Aiman transferred to work at Larangan Prison right away. Once you learn the truth, you might expect that Apprentice will turn into a gripping thriller, but Junfeng instead turns ithe film into something unpredictable, profound and human while keeping the thriller elements subdued. It's far more moving and provocative to get inside Aiman's head as he grapples with the tough moral decision of whether or not to accept Rahim's job offer as assistant executioner.
Rahim could have been written as one-note villain, but, despite his actions, he comes across as far from a villain; he's just a flawed human being doing his job. What happens when Aiman confronts and questions his morals won't be spoiled here. Everything from the cinematography to the set designs and the raw performances enrich the film even further. Most impressively, Junfeng keeps the running time at 96 minutes; if it were longer, it would've been too heavy and exhausting. Apprentice is a quietly gripping, slow-burning character study that's unflinching, bleak and engrossing.
Before I Fall
Veronica (Sandra Oh) meets her former college friend, Ashley (Anne Heche), at a dinner party where Ashley works as a caterer. They have animosity toward one another after they had a fall-out in their college days. That animosity sparks a violent catfight between the two of them leading to Veronica laying in a coma in the hospital for two years. Veronica loses everything during those two years, including her husband (Damian Young) and son who both died, as well as her wealth, while Ashley succeeds as an artist. The same thing eventually happens to Ashley later on: she wakes up broke two years after a coma and with her lover, Lisa (Alicia Silverstone), no longer by her side while Veronica prospers.
Just like in his prior films, writer/director Onur Turkel includes plenty of razor-sharp wit, sardonic humor and some shock value balanced with tenderness and poignancy. Catfight also offers biting political satire, i.e. two trees named after Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Sometimes the comedy feels high brow and sometimes it goes into low brow territory, but there isn't a dull moment. The few catfight scenes (yes, there's more than one) are entertaining in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Beneath the meanspiritedness, Catfight has a beating heart even though it's not always palpable. A less talented filmmaker than Tukel would have taken all of the film's elements of comedy, drama, satire and action and turned it into an uneven, anarchic, atonal mess instead.
Tukel understands that comedy derives from tragedy (just like Chaplin grasped as well) because even though Veronica and Ashley's situations are quite sad, he brings out the comedy facetiously. Anne Heche and Sandra Oh sink their teeth into their roles convincingly and seem to be having a great time onscreen and play off of each other quite well with all of their quips, verbal attacks and physical attacks as well. At a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, Catfight is an intelligent, bittersweet and wickedly funny dark comedy. It's a guilty pleasure with razor-sharp wit, bite and tenderness.