Psychological horror film Detention is more than just a film adaptation of the game of the same name – it's also an allegory for the events of Taiwan's White Terror era, a period of martial law from 1949 to 1987. However, turning a game into a movie isn't as easy as it seems, especially when it deals with such a charged topic. Director John Hsu and cast members Gingle Wang (Fang Ray Shin) and Tseng Ching-hua (Wei Chung Ting) shared details about the movie, which is out in theatres now, with Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore.
Detention won five Golden Horse Awards recently. How do you feel about it?
Wang: I'm very honoured to have been part of this film, and it has been amazing to see the amount of effort everyone put into it. I hope that audiences will be able to see me in more diverse roles in the future.
Tseng: It is the product of a lot of hard work from many people, and I'm glad that everyone can get to see the fruits of our labour now. It has made me strive to learn more about my craft.
Detention is based on a horror computer game. How long did you take to finish the game? What were some difficult puzzles to solve?
Hsu: I took three and a half hours to finish my first playthrough of it on the release day. After I was hired as the director for Detention, I played through it four more times to study all the details. A memorable sequence for me is when you acquire the book club's list and then it turns into a gun, which is a brilliant narrative technique that is only possible in a game.
Wang: I didn't play the game, although I watched playthroughs. It was quite frightening for me because I don't like watching horror movies, but I managed to sit through an entire playthrough.
Tseng: I didn't manage to complete the full game as I played it mainly to understand the plot. I liked the overall look and feel of the game. Although it was quite exciting, you really had to rack your brains to play it.
What do you think of Taiwan's White Terror period?
Wang: I used to think it took place in a distant era, but now I realise that it's actually part of our everyday lives. I hope everyone can treasure the freedom and prosperity we have today.
Tseng: I interviewed several people about the White Terror period, and it was very helpful in preparing for my role. My grandfather shared many photographs and journals he preserved from that time, and one of the most memorable things he told me about was his time in jail. It was very moving.
What difficulties did you face in filming Detention?
Hsu: Changing the narrative structure from that of a game to a film — it was so difficult that it almost put me and the screenwriters into the same limbo that the protagonist faces. Realising the VFX-heavy sequences was also difficult, because the Taiwan film industry doesn't really have the experiences and resources to pull that off easily. Luckily the VFX team accomplished it by working super hard, thanks to our common passion for the project.
Wang: Fang Ray Shin is a very private, very introverted character, but I'm a more cheerful and open person. So it took me quite a while to prepare for the role.
Tseng: There's a scene when my character is running out of the school along with Fang Ray Shin. It's the culmination of a lot of emotions, and it's also when the pair bid farewell to each other. I found it a complicated and emotional scene to do.
What were some memorable experiences filming Detention?
Hsu: There were many, such as the time we recreated the iconic side-scrolling shot from the game. I recorded that footage using my phone and sent it to the game developers — only to have them reply "Why are you sending me a screenshot from our game?"
Wang: My personality is very different from that of the character I play (Fang Ray Shin), so the filming process felt very long. The requirements and intensity of the role meant that I had to show my vulnerability on camera, even though I had hoped not to reveal such a side of my personality. I had many nightmares during that period.
Tseng: Since this is my first movie, I truly treasure every experience, every person, and every question that I've encountered. They will remain deeply etched in my memory.
Many books were banned during Taiwan's White Terror period. What is your favourite book?
Hsu: The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster.
Wang: The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai.
Tseng: Slam Dunk, a manga by Takehiko Inoue.
What are some of your favourite video games?
Hsu: The Zelda series and the Dark Souls series. I also like indie titles like The Beginner’s Guide, What Remains of Edith Finch and Hellblade.
Detention is out in cinemas in Singapore now.
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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