Hii bet­ter for the ex­pe­ri­ence

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TELEVISION -

SADLY ac­tor Remy Hii knew the his­tory be­hind his break­out role as ex­e­cuted Aus­tralian drug traf­ficker Van Tuong Nguyen in the SBS minis­eries Bet­ter Man.

Hii was at the Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy study­ing hu­man rights the same year Nguyen was sent to the gal­lows in Sin­ga­pore.

For the best part of 2005, Hii fol­lowed the plight of Nguyen, a 25-year-old Viet­namese-Aus­tralian who was caught with al­most 400 grams of heroin at Sin­ga­pore’s Changi air­port in 2002.

Even though pleas for clemency were made by the Aus­tralian Govern­ment, the Vat­i­can and hu­man rights cam­paign­ers, Nguyen was hanged on De­cem­ber 2, 2005.

Now Nguyen’s story – his ar­rest, con­vic­tion and death are cap­tured in the two-part minis­eries Bet­ter Man.

‘‘I re­mem­ber it be­ing a re­ally tragic and hor­ri­ble thing to have hap­pened to an Aus­tralian cit­i­zen,’’ Hii says.

‘‘To be ex­e­cuted alone and de­nied the chance to hug his fam­ily be­fore he died, it’s an in­cred­i­ble per­sonal story.

‘‘It leant an im­me­di­ate emo­tional con­nec­tion to the ma­te­rial and res­onated with me heav­ily.’’

Hii was plucked from rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity to play the main char­ac­ter along­side Aus­tralian screen vet­er­ans Bryan Brown, Clau­dia Kar­van and David Wen­ham.

As a grad­u­ate of NIDA, it’s Hii’s first main­stream role.

Writer-di­rec­tor Khoa Do handed Hii a pile of re­search ma­te­rial to read and watch be­fore pro­duc­tion started in Melbourne, and Viet­nam, to­ward the end of 2012.

Among the re­search ma­te­rial were news­pa­per clip­pings sur­round­ing the case and DVDs con­tain­ing in­ter­views with fam­ily friends and Nguyen’s lawyers.

‘‘I haven’t had any con­tact with the fam­ily, but we got their bless­ing for the pro­duc­tion,’’ Hii says.

‘‘Be­ing such a re­cent event it’s still very, very raw for them.’’

Bet­ter Man is more than a warn­ing for Aus­tralians not to traf­fic drugs, says Hii.

The story is also heav­ily based around fam­ily loy­alty.

Nguyen was be­lieved to have been car­ry­ing the drugs in re­turn for money to pay back debts, to­talling $25,000, that he and his twin brother had in­curred.

‘‘What runs across the whole arc of the story is the no­tion of fam­ily – and what would you do for some­one else in your fam­ily?,’’ Hii says.

Bet­ter Man: To­day and Thurs­day, Au­gust 1, 8.30pm, SBS1.

Remy Hii

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