I must confess that I am shamefully ignorant of the political history of Taiwan, but that didn’t detract from my understanding of what was going on (something I’ve read at least one professional review complain about – ???). As long as you’re not second-screening like a dickhead (and why would you if you can’t understand Mandarin?), you shouldn’t have any problems following the plot of this movie – Detention, or 返校.
Set in the 1960s, against the real-life backdrop of Taiwan’s brutal White Terror crackdown, Detention follows a pair of students who search for their missing teacher, who hosts their secret after-school book club. The two students, Fang (Gingle Wang) and Wei (Tseng Ching-hua) search the school halls after dark, but are soon plagued by nightmarish visions, entities and surroundings that seem to defy logic.
There are some genuine, breath-stopping moments of tension and (an early scene behind a cabin door is palpable) and some truly shocking violence (both supernatural and terran), and the non-linear storytelling lends the proceedings an extra sense of disorientating unease. But it’s also a very human story, with poignant themes of loyalty, family and truth in the face of cruel suppression, so I’m astonished that this (yes, I’m ignorant again) was actually based on the video game of the same name. On the flip side, the characters are drawn a bit thin, a dubious hint at a teacher-student romance isn’t satisfactorily quashed, and the ending seems to send an inflexible message about redemption.
In a way, it’s a classic ghost story, but with the socio-political themes woven into compelling stories of the characters’ own internal conflicts, this film becomes much more haunting than the school-named setting might have made it look (at least to an uncultured bastard like me), making it deserving of a more global viewership.