Director: John Hsu
Cast: Gingle Wang, Peter Tseng, Fu Meng-Po, Cecilia Choi
Runtime: 1 hr 42 mins
Released By: Encore Films
Opening Day: 5 December 2019
Synopsis: In 1962, a sense of desolation and tension permeate the society. Fang, a twelfth grader at Tsuihua Senior High School, falls in love with Zhang, a counselling teacher. Troubled by the problems at school and home, Fang feels that Zhang is the only person who understands her. Longing for freedom, Zhang forms a study group with his colleagues and students, including Yin and Wei. Reading the banned books allows them to be liberated for a brief moment but at the same time, they put their lives in great danger. One day, Zhang vanishes into thin air, and only Fang and Wei, an eleventh grader, remember him. Together, Fang and Wei start looking for the disappeared teacher but ﬁnd the school gradually slipping out of the world they are familiar with. Then in a realm dominated by ghosts and spirits, the pair are forced to face the terrifying truth…
Wrapping a terrifying story around a true period of human horror, Detention is a layered tale that’s heavy on scares but also ripe with messaging.
Touching on the political scene in Taiwan in the 1960s, the White Terror period was an era of martial law in the country that lasted over 38 years, from 1949 to 1987. Of the many restrictions, reading banned books (most of which were just expressing free thought) was one of them, and becomes the main premise of Detention’s story, as it follows a group of students in Tsuihua Senior High School who try to form a book club for exploring prohibited literature.
Led by teachers Zhang Ming Hui (Fu Meng Po) and Yin Tsui Han (Cecilia Choi), the group bonds over their shared love for exploration of worldly works, and protects each other from the officials, including the unbending Inspector Bai who oversees the school. But after Fang Ray Shin (Gingle Wang) discovers the group, she finds herself unwillingly entangled in the situations that follow.
While all this might sound more social-political drama, Detention is a horror title because of it’s encasing premise. Based on the survival horror video game of the same name from Red Candle Games, the film focuses on Ray Shin after she wakes up and finds everyone missing. Other than glimpses of her teacher Ming Hui, the only person that goes through the school with her is Wei Zhong Ting (Tseng Jing Hua), who nurses a crush on her. The duo quickly realises this may not exactly be the school that they know, and struggle to find their way out of this with their teacher.
Director John Hsu, along with his crew, has definitely invested all of their vision in recreating the imagery from the original game. And it’s terrifying. With stained walls and paper signs plastered everywhere, and the naturally militant air, the school feels like an ominous being in itself. And rendering the iconic image of Ray Shin exploring the compound with just a crimson candle into the film with striking similarities in framing, set and palette to the game, both the eerie and forlorn vibes continue to haunt the title.
Hsu’s dedication to such homage is partly because of how effective the game was in conveying a new kind of horror imagery, as a homegrown Taiwanese effort, but also because he was gripped by the purgatory story embedded within it. Wanting to expose the younger generation who might not have experienced the game, his film rendition pays due respect to the game, yet manages to inject enough meat to call the product his own.
Detention is disturbing as hell. There are so many levels of horror within that it’s sure to pull at least one of your nerves. From a stalking monster to torture methods, the scope is comprehensive without becoming confused. And when it comes to its main theme of right values twisted by human failings, the terrifying circumstances goes full hilt into themes of betrayel, suicide, abuse, and mental illnesses - all awash in some truly unforgettable scenes.
Having been nominated for 12 Golden Horse Awards and winning five, including Best New Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, Best Art Direction and Original Film Song, “The Day after the Rain”, Detention has impressive polish and depth on its side, along with a surprisingly mature treatment. No doubt this is because of its bigger intentions out of the film.
“Have you forgotten, or are you too afraid to remember?”
The film’s tagline is a reflection of the lead’s self-discovery and of the nature of sin, but take a step back and you’ll realise, it’s also a political statement. Compelling stuff from the director Hsu.
(Creepy visuals and amazing recreation of the game gives fans and newbies alike a taste of the heritage Detention embodies. The film is plump with things both tragic and terrifying to watch)
Review by Morgan Awyong