Alice Oscura, Featured Writer
Warning: Sensitive topics mentioned and mild spoilers.
Plot: Yun-hsiang (Lee Ling Wei) is the new transfer student to Greenwood High School. She goes to a forbidden area on the school grounds where she meets the ghost of Ray-shin (Han Ning). The two almost become inseparable when the latter reveals the dark history hidden in the school’s past.
Backstory: The series is based on a 2017 Taiwanese video game that was set during a particularly dark era of Taiwan’s history known as the White Terror. It was a time of martial law that lasted just over 38 years from 1949 to 1987. Anyone that was linked to opposing the ruling government of the Chinese National Party known as Kuomintang and led by then president Chiang Kai-shek, would either be imprisoned or executed. Spying and reporting on any suspicious behaviour in the local communities was encouraged and resulted in many innocent lives being lost.
Review: Detention is a multi-faceted series and loaded with sensitive and heavy themes. It is deeply inspired by Taiwan’s violent but tragic past in trying to gain sovereignty from China. The plot is infused with the climate of secrecy and betrayal in order to maintain control. The story takes place in 1999 when transfer student Yun-hsiang (Lee Ling Wei) moves from the big city of Taipei into an extremely backwards community to attend the prestigious Greenwood High School. The school is still being run as it was 30 years ago under the era of censorship. When Yun-Hsiang breaks the number one school rule and enters a forbidden building on the school property she encounters the ghost of Ray-shin (Han Ning). Ray-shin committed suicide 30 years ago by jumping off the roof of the now-condemned school building.
As the story develops further, you soon realise that the present events begin to almost mirror Ray-shin’s past as Yun-hsiang begins to find herself in an extremely vulnerable situation. The school’s current principal and the terrifying master of discipline Instructor Pai (Chao Chen-Ping) do their best to cover up the truth of the dark occurrences in the past. In the meantime, Yun-hsiang has to learn to navigate her new situation whilst dealing with almost crippling anxiety. However, Ray-Shin steps in as her saviour of sorts by locking Yun-hsiang into a Faustian type of relationship. The only other person in Yun-hsiang’s life that sees the danger in this is her fellow classmate Wen-liang (Huang Guan-Zhi) whose father is like the resident witch doctor, or what we like to call in my neck of the woods (Caribbean) an “Obeah Man”.
The Netflix series spans eight episodes and has English subtitles. Each episode is fully packed and deals with some serious, mentally-tasking issues. It delves into the manipulation by the dark, seedy world of politics to control people who do not seem to know or understand that they deserve better, likely because their access to knowledge is being controlled. The main character seems to suffer from a form of anxiety or panic disorder which is a direct result of feelings of abandonment from her father. There is even an inappropriate relationship that develops between a student and a teacher that turns violent. It leads to an inquiry where a young girl’s position is cast in doubt while the school board tries to protect the teacher. Yes folks, I did say that it was a lot!
I would admit that it is not the easiest watch and I did have to take breaks so as not to be consumed too much with the heavy, melancholic and atmospheric themes. That being said, it is the best and most comprehensive live action adaptation of a video game that I have seen so far.
The lead actress Lee Ling Wei does a fantastic job as Yun-hsiang. The character becomes extremely conflicted as the series goes along and as more of her personal background is revealed you begin to see how susceptible she is to Ray-shin. Now Han-Ning, who plays the vengeful ghost, is another story. While she did seem to have great chemistry with Ling Wei-Lee on the screen, I thought that her face was stiff and too void of emotion. When the true, undistorted events of her past are finally revealed, it lacks the emotional impact in the climax of the series because her facial expressions throughout is so lacking!
Most of the adults in this series are either extremely terrifying or horrible human beings, so it really was left up to the youngsters to fend for themselves. The atmosphere is dark and foreboding throughout and the story manages to incorporate the Taiwanese culture and mythology as well as superstition. There really isn’t a lot of scares as it doesn’t seem to focus too much on this aspect but more on the atmospheric tones linked to the heavy psychological state of the main characters. The series does slow down and falter at particular intervals so there are issues with pacing consistency. But it does manage to keep the audience’s attention with the drama involved in the flashes of past and present events surrounding the characters.
Despite its inconsistencies Detention is a great watch, and it brings something different to the table in my opinion.
Dark Alice’s Score: 7.5 out of 10
Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump.
I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. You can find me as Dark Alice Reviews on Facebook where you’ll get my reviews hot off the press. You can also find me on Instagram as alice_oscura and my Twitter handle is @lise_veliz2. For my extended bio you can click here.