Going Nowhere In A Hurry
Nowhere Man is the first Mandarin Netflix Original and from its first episode alone, is a tough one to recommend. With a glacial pacing, several confusing time jumps and a disparate lack of exposition, Nowhere Man takes its sweet time to lay its foundations before ending with a snippet of promising plot progression going forward.
We begin the first episode with a dreamy, hallucinatory segment, as piano chimes juxtapose against the harsh underbelly of a prison while inmates scream in despair. Ah Quan awakens from this dream, coughing and sputtering as he looks out among the sea of bodies sleeping around him. Staring at the ceiling, his tranquility is shattered by Bro Sa, one of the inmates, having a heart attack.
From here, we jump back to 2006 to find Ah Quan beaten by a group of thugs. Boss Qui and Boss Wan hold a meeting regarding entries for the Chong He Triad, of which Ah Quan, Xiao San and Ah Gui apply for, where they talk about fighting and loyalty. Despite the disapproval of his Mum, Ah Quan shares dinner with the others some time later, while growing closer to Jing-Fang in the process.
After sharing drinks and food together, we’re graced with another montage segment as our characters have fun and hang out, seemingly in the not-too-distant future. All of this gets a little heated later on when Gui asks Jing-Fang whether he’s annoying, prompting a scuffle to break out between Gui and Quan. Despite things calming down between them, in the dead of the night we see the gang out collecting money, quickly escalating into all-out carnage as this spills over to the streets.
After seeing the group reveling in success, we cut forward again to find Ah Quan on death-row and the earlier heart attack for Bro Sa resulting in his death. Stubbing out his cigarette, Ah Quan returns to his normal work duties in the kitchen, cooking food for the guards, while Fu Xing starts to have a panic attack outside his cell. Thankfully he’s calmed down, leading the imprisoned group to discuss their past.
We then jump back to 2009 for Uncle Cui’s funeral. The various Triad members stand before the congregation, as another gang arrives and asks for incense sticks. It’s tense, to say the least, and inevitably erupts into all-out carnage as Fu Xing ignores the fighting around him and bows before the row of flowers.
It’s here we learn the group has been split in half – those who support Boss Wan and the other half loyal to Boss Qui. In the midst of this, our trio of Triad members find themselves moving locations in the middle of the night to track down Boss Qui. Eventually they’re led to an abandoned warehouse and after looking around, see that the place is abandoned. However, Ah Gui receives another message through, asking to see him in private.
Despite a few quiet moments in his absence, the group hear gunshots outside, prompting Xiao San and Ah Quan to go and investigate. Once there, they find Boss Wan in a heap on the ground, mumbling about a child that Boss Qui has orchestrated the kidnapping of. As they search through the wreckage inside, they find the kidnapped child and hurry outside and away, just as the police approach.
With the child bundled in the back, the group speed off but find themselves coming under fire at a checkpoint, as two police officers question Xiao San’s story about the hospital. After a tense few minutes, they’re allowed through, but are quickly stopped when the police notice something awry. With their cover now blown, they speed off down the street to get away but find themselves surrounded. However, they catch the officers off-guard at the last second and manage to race off before being captured.
Despite hiding out in the warehouse from earlier, they find themselves surrounded as the officers plead for them to give up the child to make life easier for everyone involved. While Fu Xing screams in the back, Ah Quan lets his frustrations out on the man in the boot while Xiao San laughs, sprawled out on the pool table. Ah Quan grabs the child and steps outside, asking to speak to Jing-Fang, after having killed the man in his boot as the episode ends.
As far as opening episodes go, Nowhere Man doesn’t make a particularly compelling case for itself, given the crime-drama genre and set-up we’re given. There’s just enough here to keep you coming back, thanks in part to the finale and dramatic third act, but the first two-thirds of this episode meander on with long shots and an artistic direction that oftentimes feels at odds with the conflict on screen. The time jumps feel sporadic and ill-placed, oftentimes breaking up the momentum of the episode, and the lack of exposition or explanation over what’s going on, make this a very challenging show to follow (and recap!).
Still, there’s plenty of time for that to change but right now, Nowhere Man’s interest feels in danger of fizzing out long before its intriguing premise kicks in.
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