Taiwan’s tenuous relationship with China has always been a sore point to explore in the media. DETENTION’s original incarnation as a video game struck both nerves and gold, for its placement of the time period during the White Terror in the country. The game won rave reviews for its innovative presentation style, beautifully rendered in a vivid colour palette of black, white and red, but the support also came from the fact that it was an independent maker and spoke up about the militant treatment that some people would prefer to keep buried.
DETENTION the film gained plenty of hype because of the certain efforts to contain (and maybe even shut down) the game and firm, and thankfully, even with all the excitement, DETENTION manages to keep its delivery successful. It was even nominated for 12 Golden Horse Awards, of which it won 5 – mainly for the direction.
You’ll see that John Hsu – himself a fanboy of the game – has spared every effort to remain faithful to the game’s ethos. The film palette is a haunting entity in itself, always oppressive and unforgiving. The iconic candlelit character of Ray Shin (Gingle Wang) anchors the film in a state of sickly pallor, one that echoes how the martial law is draining life and expression from the other spirited students.
As the film progresses, the audience shuttles between time frames and even dimensions, bringing to mind another franchise – Silent Hill. And indeed, the film carries a lot of that same creepiness which is fuel to the success of the horror series. DETENTION holds its own, proudly distributing more Asian influences, such as funeral slips and morbid shrines. It’s an effect that will work very chillingly on the region’s viewers for sure.
DETENTION carries a very pronounced message of political oppression but holds within it a tragic love story and exploration of tested loyalty and friendships. There’s very few horror as disturbing as the ones that are real, and this film has managed to create a well-honed piece that documents, horrifies, and entertain with equal measure.