Better Man (2013)

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Released 4-Sep-2013

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category TV Drama Series None
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2013
Running Time 197:55
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Khoa Do

Madman Entertainment
Starring Remy Hii
Kate Nhung
David Wenham
Brian Brown
Jordan Rodrigues
Felino Dolloso
Claudia Karvan
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Matteo Zingales

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

†††† Shown on SBS TV, Better Man is a four part series, each approximately 50 minutes in length. It is based on the true story of the arrest, trial and sentencing to death in Singapore for drug trafficking in 2005 of Vietnamese-Australian Van Nguyen and the attempts of his family and an Australian legal team to save his life. The DVD cover adds that ďthe Nguyen family did not directly participate in the making of this programmeĒ.

†††† In episode 1 Lion Block, Van Nguyen (Remy Hii) is asked by Alan (Felino Dolloso) to travel to Cambodia to buy half a kilo of heroin from Ang (Mai The Hiep) and smuggle it to Melbourne. While in Cambodia Van makes a side trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to find where his mother Kim lived before she fled to Thailand after the war, where Van was born in a refugee camp. In Vietnam Van meets Vy (Kate Nhung), from who he leans a little about the realities of contemporary Vietnam. In transit through Singapore on his way back to Australia with the drugs strapped to his body, Van is searched and the drugs discovered.

†††† In episode 2 Twin Dragons, Van is arrested in Singapore and interrogated by Inspector Ramesh (Sachin Joab). In the course of the interrogation the film flashes back frequently to Vanís past, his girlfriends and his struggles to provide for his mother and his twin brother Khoa (Jordan Rodrigues) which led to a debt and his decision to become a drug mule for Alan. Possession of the quality of heroin found on Van carries the death penalty in Singapore, but Ramesh is reluctant to obtain the signed confession that would condemn Van. However he is pressured by his superior Superintendent Lau (Warren Lee), and Lau extracts a signed confession from Van without advising the Australia High Commission in Singapore, or allowing Van any legal representation.

†††† In episode 3 Lost Lamb Melbourne solicitor Julian McMahon (David Wenham) agrees to defend Van for free and he enlists Q.C. Lex Lasry (Brian Brown). They seek help from the only High Court barrister in Singapore known to oppose his governmentís death penalty, but when he dies of a heart attack the odds are clearly against the Australians, especially with the Singapore government pressuring alternate barristers. The Australian government of John Howard refuses to intervene and Van is found guilty of trafficking and sentenced to death. On death row Van seeks solace in God and becomes resigned to his fate when his appeal is rejected by the Singapore Appeals Court.

†††† In episode 4 The Last Dance Julian is not prepared to give up, and launches an appeal for clemency to the President of Singapore, backed by media and public support in Australia. Vanís mother Kim (Hien Nguyen) also meets Prime Minister John Howard and appeals with him to pressure Singapore to remit the death sentence. But when the Australian government does not intervene and the Singapore President rejects the appeal for clemency, Vanís family and supporters must face the truth in last meetings with Van before he is hanged.

†††† Better Man was written and directed by Vietnamese / Australian Khoa Do, who was born in Ho Chi Minh City, came to Australia as one of the boat people and was accepted as a refugee under a more enlightened government; he became Young Australian of the Year in 2005 (the year Van Nguyen was executed in Singapore, the last Australian to be executed abroad). His screenplay, about an Vietnamese / Australian executed for drug trafficking, does imply that if Van had of been white and female, like Chappelle Corby who was in gaol in Indonesia on drugs changes at the same time, then the media and Australian government may have been more strident in its efforts to mitigate the death penalty.

†††† Better Man certainly benefits from a strong cast, with David Wenham particularly good as the solicitor who becomes very emotionally involved in the case, and Remy Hii grows in stature as the episodes progress until his final meeting with his family and supporters is genuinely heart-wrenching. If anything, the problem with Better Man is that, at 4 x 50 minute episodes, it feels padded and would perhaps work better with a tighter script. Certainly, a lot of episode 2 feels unnecessary.

†††† Better Man does not make an specific statement about the death penalty. But in showing Van as a young, naÔve and very amateurish drug trafficker, and the abuse of process perpetrated by the Singapore government, police and judicial system including for 20 hours avoiding informing the Australian High Commission that they had arrested an Australian national while pressuring an unrepresented Van Nguyen to sign a confession, the implications are clear.

†††† While too long, parts of Better Man are powerful and compelling television on a subject that deserves to be told. The script does not condone the trafficking of illegal drugs, but the film makes that point that the naive deserve justice, including a fair and balanced hearing, and another chance.

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Transfer Quality


†††† Better Man is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the original ratio, and is 16x9 enhanced.

†††† This made for TV series uses natural colour and, in the early episode, includes some wonderful looking locations in Vietnam and Cambodia. The print is fairly soft in some scenes, but close-ups are finely detailed. Colours are good, shin tones are natural, brightness and contrast consistent except where they are deliberately lighter in the flashback sequences. Blacks and shadow detail were good, including the wide shots of Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh, Melbourne and Singapore at night which look stunning.

†††† I did not notice any marks on the print. There was minor aliasing and ghosting with motion but nothing serious.

†††† There were no problems with lip synchronisation.

†††† English subtitles for the hearing impaired are available in a yellow text. As well, yellow subtitles come on automatically to translate sections of Vietnamese dialogue.

†††† A good print of a recent TV series.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


†††† The DVD cover lists the audio as Dolby Digital 2.0. Both my computer and amp read the signal as 5.1 at 448 Kbps, yet I was not aware of anything in the rear speakers. So in fact it comes over as 2.0 stereo anyway.

†††† Dialogue is sometimes a bit difficult to hear, due to accents or speech in a low voice, but there are always the subtitles to help. The sound effects, such as traffic, and music were acceptable. There was no rear or sub-woofer use.

†††† The original music by Matteo Zingales blended Western and Asian rhythms effectively, giving good support to the visuals.

†††† There is nothing wrong with the audio track and it gets the job done.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


†††† There are no extras.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

†††† This is a Region Free release of Better Man. There is not at this time another release of the series available elsewhere.


†††† Better Man, while too long, is powerful and confronting television, with good acting and genuinely heart-wrenching moments. It is a story on a subject that deserves to be told.

†††† The video and audio are fine. There are no extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Monday, December 09, 2013
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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