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Gingle Wang (Actor) | Ceng Jing Hua (Actor) | Yun Zhong Yue (Actor) | Pang Chin Yu (Actor)
This professional review refers to Detention (2019) (Blu-ray) (English Subtitled) (Taiwan Version)
Detention starts out like a fairly by-the-numbers horror film – two teenagers wake up in an abandoned high school in the middle of the night. There's no electricity, there are weird noises everywhere, and before you know it, spooky things that go bump in the night start showing up.
On the surface, Detention fits in perfectly with films like The Tag-Along series, The Rope Curse and recent box office hit The Bridge Curse as part of Taiwan cinema's recent horror resurgence. But two things set this surprise blockbuster apart from its contemporaries: It's Taiwan cinema's first adaptation of a homegrown video game, and it tells a story that is deeply rooted in a dark chapter of Taiwan's real history.
The two students we meet in the beginning are Ray Shin (Gingle Wang) and her classmate Chong Ting (Tseng Ching Hua). They're living in the middle of the White Terror period when the ruling Kuomintang imposed draconian measures to suppress dissidents and anything perceived to be pro-Communist. Flashbacks reveal that the spooky things our protagonists encounter are manifested from their ties to a secret reading club for banned books organized by Mr. Chang (Fu Meng Po) and what happens when the club is discovered by authorities.
Best known for his 2017 hit VR comedy Your Spiritual Temple Sucks, director and co-writer John Hsu uses a mix of traditional filmmaking craft and special effects to carry over the original game's creepy atmosphere and some of its scariest moments. Despite being made for just a fraction of the budget of a standard Blumhouse horror film, Detention is a polished commercial film driven by a strong directorial vision and top-tier production values.
Hsu keeps most of the horror elements of the game in the first half of the film, using them as a tease to segue viewers to the tragic story that led to the characters' predicament. The tragic backstory is assembled like a puzzle through gathering evidence (while escaping ghosts and ghouls along the way) in the game, while it's merely served to audiences via flashbacks in the film. Nevertheless, the chilling depiction of life during the White Terror period elevates Detention from a standard horror film to a powerful psychological drama about guilt and resilience in an era of oppression.
Up until now, the White Terror era has mostly been depicted in serious films like Hou Hsiao Hsien's City of Sadness, Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day and Yonfan's Prince of Tears. Detention is as serious in its examination of the era as its predecessors, but it cleverly uses genre elements to draw its viewers into a film that is ultimately a sobering history lesson at its core. If it takes a haunted school horror yarn to inspire young audiences to reflect on the difficulties and challenges that Taiwan overcame before it achieved democracy, then so be it.
by Kevin Ma
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