Wednesday 18 December 2013

Film: Better Man (SBS)

Source: The Herald Sun[/caption]


Based on a true story, Better Man is a four part mini-series retelling the execution of Van Tuong Nguyen. Van was an Australian born Vietnamese, raised in the South East of Melbourne. He is famously known for being the last Australian to be executed overseas in an attempt to smuggle drugs back into Australia.

Starring Australian actors David Wenham (The Lord of The Rings), Remy Hii (Neighbours) and Jordan Rodrigues (Dance Academy), Better Man portrays the sorrows and dangers of Van's life.


The story of Van Tuong Nguyen would perhaps not be unfamiliar to most Australians, especially of the older generation. Initially, the mini series was met with opposition from Nguyen's family but SBS still went ahead an aired it.

I would have to admit I didn't know much about him even though it happened late into my primary school years. Still, it really intrigued me to see how Nguyen would be portrayed especially under a Vietnamese director as well. The series opens up to the moments before Nguyen travels to Cambodia and ends with his hanging. During that time viewers are given flashbacks to the moments in his life that lead up to and eventually determine the choice he makes.

I found that the show did an excellent job in conveying the grey area amongst the so-called black and white of things. It's always been thought that drug distributors are just evil beings, content on harming others and are only aware of money. Whilst that part is also seen in the series, with the men who send Nguyen for the errand, it also depicts a different humanity in others. Those who resort to that "easy" money because of that desperate struggle they encounter. It's not that they don't care about others but there are more important things, like their family's survival that they must worry about instead. Well, that's what I saw in Nguyen's story at least.

Source: The Strait Times

It's well known that he claimed to be helping his brother pay back the debts that grew from his heroin addiction and lawyer fees after going to court for bashing someone. The miniseries places a large emphasis on that part, portraying him as the man of the household who has to carry all the responsibilities. It's a great example of a conventional Asian household, where the eldest male in the house has to somehow keep his family alive. Somehow that gets in the way of solutions that could've happened but because of that pride Nguyen took the road that apparently seemed like the only way. It raises those questions as to whether there could've been a means to solve things if he had sought it or just put in that more effort. Still, there was mention that sometimes there is only one choice to make.

There were still some parts of the show I didn't like. The officers from Singapore were conveyed as cold-hearted and merciless. It made it seem like it was Australia vs. Singapore at some points, and that Nguyen actually deserved more. True, Singapore did take more time than necessary to contact Australia but at the same time the Australian government were not as willing to help out like the show made it out to be. However, it a great way to portray how less of a human being drug smugglers/dealers are viewed as. Nguyen was only known as a number whilst in prison and the officers could not care less that he was young and inexperienced. Sometimes we do forget that those people are still human beings, with family and friends. I think Do humanised Nguyen quite a lot in the show through the moments he tried to find his mother's hometown and the relationships he built throughout his years.

Source: The Herald Sun

Khoa Do did an amazing job in drawing out a side to the story in which others can only speculate. It was pretty much believable that Nguyen, in the final moments, was having second thoughts. The most heartbreaking moments were probably when he realised the officers had found the packets on his body and when he said his last words to everyone he ever loved. I was choking up so bad.

I don't take Better Man as a way of excusing what Nguyen did. It was illegal and definitely not something anyone should be doing, but at the same time it certainly draws attention to certain issues that are closeted. Not everyone will lead a perfect life and just one mistake can drive you to consequences that are beyond your ability to receive. The show also touched on the response from the nation and its government in comparison to Schapelle Corby's case. I found that the point they made, where Corby is a white female and so would receive a lot more support, really haunting. Whether that is true or not is certainly a debatable topic but I can't help but agree in a way.

Source: The Herald Sun

I would've preferred that Nguyen wasn't painted as a victim so much. He was still in the wrong even if his brother was more of an idiot. Yet, I really enjoyed watching the mini-series. It gave a lot more insight not only to that case but also an insight into the drug life in general. Nguyen committed a crime and paid his life for it. The death penalty isn't something I agree on but it is hard to fight the law, especially in a country like Singapore.

I understand the distraught Nguyen's family must've felt when hearing about the production of the mini-series. However, I'm actually glad SBS ended up airing it. A haunting and sad story of loss, Better Man really deserves to be watched. Watch out though, the profanity in it sky rockets. Also something I would've liked the show to tone down on. It is rated MA 15+ though, with some amount of nudity - not full frontal or anything, just glimpse.

Rating: 4/5

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