Chapter 1 – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Chapter 2 – | Review Score – 3/5
Chapter 3 – | Review Score – 3/5
Chapter 4 – | Review Score – 3/5
Chapter 5 – | Review Score – 3/5
Chapter 6 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Chapter 7 – | Review Score – 3/5
With Netflix desperate to break into the lucrative Asian market, Nowhere Man is the first Mandarin Netflix Original and despite some glimmers of promise nestled in its 8 episodes, ultimately winds up a little disappointing next to so many other titles in this genre. Despite some artistic long shots, nice stylistic visuals and solid performances from the lead cast, Nowhere Man’s sporadic time jumps and glacial pacing hold this back from really living up to its potential.
On the surface, Nowhere Man’s premise injects some originality into an otherwise formulaic storyline. At the heart of this is Ah Quan, a man on death-row awaiting his fate after being convicted of a kidnapping charge 10 years earlier. When he receives photos from an unknown source in the present showing his son has been kidnapped, what follows is a search and rescue mission as Ah Quan, Xiao San, Ah Gui and Fu Xing all work together to break out and go on the hunt for those responsible for the kidnapping. It’s here that further twists in the tale are revealed, with the second half of the show improving slightly with its storytelling, partly thanks to Ah Quan, who has regular hallucinatory segments that see him jumping into alternate timelines.
Interestingly, the 8 episodes are all of different lengths too, with an hour-long opening and closing episode nestled between most of the others, which clock in at around 40 minutes or so. The first half of the season tackles the back-story for this quartet of characters, fleshing them all out and understanding their desires and dreams during the time of the first kidnapping. The second half introduces new characters, with the series evolving slightly to much more of a cat-and-mouse vibe as our characters try to outfox the police and Inspector Yang who remains hot on their heels.
While the characters themselves are endearing enough to keep you watching and there’s some nice development for most of their arcs, the problem with Nowhere Man lies in the delivery of its story and time jumps. Early on, the first episode wastes little time introducing all of its characters but does so with no exposition and so many time jump, it’s difficult to work out exactly what’s going on. It doesn’t help either that the show has a tendency to linger on shots that feel in desperate need of cutting 2 or 3 seconds earlier rather than remaining on blank expressions or scenes devoid of interesting composition.
While this sounds like nitpicking, it’s particularly problematic midway through the season as the group start formulating their plan in breaking out. Yet, somehow the pacing remains static most of the way through the series, even during these exciting moments, stubbornly refusing to play ball with the much more urgent story on paper.
The musical score is also a little hit or miss at times too. Early episodes showcase a smattering of different classical scores, before being replaced by much more familiar Pop records seen in these sort of Asian dramas partway through. It’s particularly jarring during some segments, with one in particular featuring In The Hall Of The Mountain King playing, while the trio of characters engage in a brawl that spills outside.
Although the episodes do get better as the show goes on, Nowhere Man’s confusing first episode and exhausting long shots make it a difficult show to recommend. The slow pace would be fine if it increased midway through the series to match the increased tension, but it never does. Instead, Nowhere Man remains static most of the way through its run-time, making for a much more rigid, cold watch than it perhaps should. The narrative and ideas are certainly there but the execution is lacking, to say the least. Nowhere Man goes nowhere fast, and that ultimately holds this back from greatness.