Hot on the heels of the controversy generated from the execution of Kho Jabing and the media circus that the lawyers who represented him found themselves embroiled in, the death penalty is in the spotlight again.
It would appear that a local film that was honoured at this year’s Canne Film Festival has received an M18 rating as opposed to a PG13 or NC16 rating. Given that it is rare for local films to be feted at international film festivals, shouldn’t an acclaimed local film be made available to a wider audience?
Wouldn’t supporting a local film that has garnered international success foster national pride and unity?
The reason cited for such a restricted rating is that the film contains scenes, which depict and describe the execution process. Given that Singapore is a country that vigorously defends its use of the death penalty, why is there a need to be so coy about its depiction or description on film?
I am not suggesting that it be aired in place of Sunday morning cartoons but is there really a need for 13 or 16 year olds to be shielded from discussions of the death penalty? Are they not old enough to be aware of the laws of the land and its effects?
If we want to retain its use, we have to be prepared to be open about the effects of its imposition. Why shy away from something that we appear to be so staunchly defending?
Quite apart from the seeming conflict between wanting to project the image of a Disney Land state and a country that practices the most draconian of sentences, there is also the issue of inconsistency between how this film is treated in comparison to its foreign counterparts. As cited by the Straits Times article hyperlinked above, “films with depictions of the death penalty have been awarded a range of ratings in Singapore. The biopic Dead Man Walking (1995), for example, has a PG rating. The home video version of The Green Mile (1999) is rated M18, but the version released in cinemas at the time had a PG rating because it had been edited to fit PG requirements.”
This begs the question - is Apprentice being treated more stringently because it is a local film that could stir up emotions over a sensitive issue so close to the time after a high profile execution?
Shouldn’t there be more consistency?
Given the myriad issues that have been raised by Kho Jabing’s execution which range from procedural irregularity to when the death penalty should be imposed to the role of lawyers and activists, permitting a wider audience to watch a movie that delves into the emotional impact of an execution could be cathartic.
The law and its application are never static. It evolves in tandem with societal developments. The fact that director Boo Jun Feng has been inspired to make a film that centres on the individuals involved in the business of state sanctioned death implies that society could be ready to have a more profound insight into how the imposition of death could affect those who are intimately acquainted with its imposition.
Carrying out the death sentence isn’t just about statistics. While it is easier to look at it from a black and white perspective, the reality of it is far more nuanced. If we want to retain it, then we must be prepared to confront its emotional effects warts and all. If we want to keep the death penalty in the statute books, we have to be prepared to accept the enormity of its imposition. We have to face the fact that it is a life that we are taking and not hide behind the façade of numbers.
Apprentice might be just the right catalyst for such a timely societal debate. It is therefore a pity that it is restricted to a smaller audience than originally anticipated.
Apprentice will be shown in cinemas from 30 June 2016.