Serving Detention with Spirits this Ghost Month!

25 Aug

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Played at Fantasia Digital Film Festival 2020
Canadian Premiere

SPOILER ALERT

So here is Greenwood, an unassuming high school, where students get an education about why the Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party) are great. However, anyone who is found to possess other teachings may get Detention (Fanxiao).

Viewers get an after hour’s lesson of a tumultuous time in Taiwanese history. There are other secrets this educational institute holds. The demons and ghosts of White Terror’s past wanting to tell their story. I’m sure all the atrocities that occurred is one many prefer to forget. Without it, the context of why Wei (Jing-Hua Tseng) is part of a dissonant group of kids learning from banned textbooks and the writings of Nobel-prize winning Rabindranath Tagore would be lost. Thankfully he is not alone, Fang Ray-Shin (Gingle Wang) sympathizes, but she wants nothing to do with the clandestine meetings. Two teachers–Miss Yin (Cecilia Choi) and Mr Zhang (Fu Meng-Po)–better be careful too. They won’t be facing jail time, but will be executed instead for their transgressions. A warning can be found with the grave in the schoolyard which students regularly cross.

The ambience switches from dramatic to full-blown terror to heartfelt like the beating of a butterfly. The realistic coloured dreamy segments are juxtaposed with black and white haunting nightmares. However, we are sometimes misled on which is which. I suspect that someone in the group is a traitor and is ratting everyone out. This hook kept me invested.

The focus eventually falls onto Ray-Shin and her tale. Her crush on Wei is very evident and when after-school activities hint at him with trysts with the teacher, just what she feels is understandable. The flashbacks simply adds to the horrors still to come.

This movie is Dead Poets Society meets Pan’s Labyrinth. The dread comes at you in waves. The historical context is rightly nuanced and a solid platform to build upon for this movie by writer and director John Hsu. Additional writing credits include Fu-Kai Ling and Chiem Shi-keng.

I will have to play the video game to which this movie is adapted from. I’m fairly sure it’s very faithful and it’s rare for a film to be this good. Compared to Silent Hill, the need for crazy monster designs is unneeded. Perhaps Hollywood producers should take a lesson from Taiwan and if they still haven’t learned, get whipped instead!

5 Ghosts out of 5

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