TWITTER/NETFLIX

Content Note: This article contains descriptions of gory scenes, and detailed discussion of depression and fatal self-harm. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

Whether it’s pre-planned or by coincidence, the brand new Netflix original series The Victims’ Game (Mandarin: 誰是被害者) was surely released right on time for Mental Health Awareness and Neurodiversity Celebration week. If you’re willing to read one inch of subtitles, this Taiwanese film series will first hook you deep in suspense and then hit you right in the feels.

The plot unfolds in the form of a fast-paced crime drama, so intricately planned that it could rival America’s long-established CSI seasons. We are first brought to witness an appalling scene: acid-dissolved human remains in a bathtub that seemingly belonged to a long-forgotten female singer, way past her prime. Fear dawns on the police and an undercover investigative journalist as they discover one body after another under bizarre circumstances, all seemingly unrelated but yet suspiciously connected. What’s truly perplexing here is that the deceased are continuously misidentified. Indeed, the police have fallen into an unexpected, mind-blowing, well-calculated victims’ game.

Fang Yi-jen working in secret with investigative journalist Hsu Hai-yinTWITTER/HUTTSON

But the primary purpose of this series really isn’t to win hearts as a crime show. As the plot progresses, we can see that its true legacy is not to entertain us with horror thrills, but to raise awareness on the psychological complexities behind self-harm. The emotionally stimulating narratives of a rejected trans-sexual woman, a mistreated, overworked employee, an unmerited, disabled artist, a remorseful ex-criminal, a misjudged junior delinquent, and an abused immigrant wife collectively illustrate social negligence and unjustified bias as a cause of situational depression—a dangerous condition that may lead one to perceive death as “the only way out”.

Some major producers seem to be slowly putting down the predilection for romantic comedies, using the power of the script to achieve a deeper social purpose.

Whilst the management of depression itself is not within the scope of this series, it urges the need to seek help from trustworthy resources and reiterates how self-harm should never be a solution. Furthermore, the epiphany that gradually dawned on the investigative journalist (Hsu Hai-yin) exhorts media authorities to understand the severity of mental illnesses, advocating stronger sensitivity and compassion when describing these matters. It calls for outlets to de-sensationalise news touching upon mental health, portraying how irresponsible reporting may give way to detrimental consequences.

Its message does not stop there. By featuring a talented forensic policeman with Asperger’s (Fang Yi-jen) as the main protagonist, the film depicts communication barriers that could occur among carriers of the syndrome. The early discovery of his long-abandoned daughter’s involvement in the cases highlights the seriousness of parental negligence. Although many viewers may instinctively attribute such neglect to the protagonist’s character rather than his clinical disorder, it does leave us thinking whether such negligence towards his child is, at least in part, “organic” (unintentional resulting from the syndrome) rather than deliberate.


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The release of The Victims’ Game is perhaps testament to the shifting trends of Taiwanese drama, a courageous attempt to venture beyond traditional comfort zones. Some major producers seem to be slowly putting down the predilection for romantic comedies, using the power of the script to achieve a deeper social purpose. Once deemed to be an “unspeakably awkward” topic in Taiwan (particularly among older generations), the discussion of mental illnesses and neurodiversity in popular film is a powerful step towards building a healthier and more rational recognition of these matters. It potentially brings sceptical viewers to the epiphany that poor psychological health is not a weakness, and neither are developmental disorders shameful matters. While The Victims’ Game is not set out to provide “solutions” to these issues, it does throw us some food for thought during Mental Health Awareness and Neurodiversity Celebration week. As such, I believe it deserves to be under this month’s Netflix spotlight— both in Taiwan and beyond.

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