New drama series on Van Tuong Nguyen for SBS

SBS has announced its first new drama series in 3 years, a 4-part series on the life and death of Van Tuong Nguyen, the young Australian who was hanged in Singapore in 2005.

Van Tuong Nguyen was convicted of drug trafficking under Singapore’s mandatory death sentence despite pleas for clemency from the Australian government, Amnesty International and the Holy See.

At the age of 25 he was the first Australian to be executed in 12 years. His death caused an outpouring of grief from his supporters across Australia.

Better Man by FremantleMedia is the first commission by new Director of TV and Online Content, Tony Iffland.

Better Man is a moving and important story told in a contemporary drama and reflects issues that affect our communities. It is a uniquely Australian story and one that only SBS would tell. SBS is proud to support this production which underlines our commitment to making the very best home-grown programming for all Australians,” said Iffland.

“While this is a confronting story, the human side of it makes it a compelling one and we are extremely fortunate to be joining with SBS to be able to tell it,” said Ian Hogg, CEO, FremantleMedia Australia and Asia Pacific.

The series is written and directed by writer, director, actor and teacher Khoa Do with Jason Stephens as Executive Producer.

“Khoa Do’s involvement brings a resonance to Better Man which no other writer could because of his own family history, along with his extraordinary talent and accomplishments,” said Stephens.

Better Man also represents a return to Drama by SBS which has struggled with funding constraints, but received a $158m boost from the Budget in May.

SBS Managing Director Michael Ebeid said: “Better Man is an example of the sort of compelling, inspiring and thought provoking content that SBS can create with sustainable funding. Whilst our unprecedented Federal Budget funding boost is largely addressing the challenges we’ve faced in a changing media landscape, it has also enabled us to get back into the business of drama programming which our audiences know when we do it, we do it well.”

The series will air in 2013.

Better Man is a four part mini-series that looks at the true story of the remarkable life and death of Van Nguyen; a Vietnamese Australian man who was convicted of drug trafficking in Singapore and executed for his crime in 2005. His hanging was the first execution of an Australian in Southeast Asia since 1993. Nguyen was only 25 years old.

Better Man is the powerful story of a young man desperately trying to provide for his family, for which he paid the ultimate price. From the colourful yet abusive upbringing that Van shared with his twin brother and loving mother, to the gripping and heart-stopping events leading up to his arrest in Singapore, Better Man culminates in an extraordinary three-year legal battle led by Lex Lasry and Julian McMahon to save the young man’s life.

Despite all their efforts, along with those of Van’s loved ones, the Australian Prime Minister and two Popes, Van Nguyen’s life came to a tragic end on December 2nd 2005. At the time of his passing, nearly half of Australia wept as the boy known in Changi as – “the baby of death row’ – became the last Australian to be executed.

In 2005, Khoa Do was awarded the Young Australian of the Year Award for his services in drama and working with youths in Sydney’s south-west.

In 2001, Khoa was nominated for an AFI Award for his screen play for the short film Delivery Day. The film tells the story of a young girl and her struggle to balance the demands of school, her mother and the family’s backyard sweatshop and is based heavily on Khoa’s own experience.

In 2004, Khoa was nominated for two AFI Awards, three Film Critics’ Circle Awards and two Australian Writers’ Guild Awards for this film and for his community theatre.

Better Man is a FremantleMedia Australia production in association with Bravado Productions for SBS.

Production commences in October and will be filmed in Melbourne and Vietnam. Better Man will transmit on SBS ONE in 2013.


  1. From Fremantle: “Fremantle Media/Bravado and Khoa Do have consulted and worked in close cooperation with many of the key people who were involved in the campaign to save Van Nguyen. Without their input and support this project would not have proceeded. Better Man gives us an important opportunity to present the man and the circumstances behind the headline and explore capital punishment.”

  2. There are two young Australian’s about to be executed in Indonesia.

    If it is done well, I think there is a lot to be gained from going back to this tragedy Lizzie. It seems very relevant.

  3. @ Lizzie May, no-one is saying this wasn’t a tragedy. If just one person learns a lesson from watching this series then it will have been worthwhile. There have been countless telemovies/series etc over the years that have told a tragic story. Are you suggesting that none of them should have been produced ?

  4. A tragedy is a tragedy, it’s got nothing to do with perspective or well realised, blah, blah blah. The picture you posted David, attached to the article, says it all. And I doubt if SBS would make it without the hint of profit. Whatever way you look at it, they’re a business!!

  5. @ Lizzie May, I can see where you’re coming from, I was very sad when this young man was executed, such a waste of life. However, it is a story that I think needs to be told.

  6. This makes me feel very sad – I don’t want to go back to thinking about this human tragedy. What’s to gain? I can’t imagine how Van’s family will feel. Making money out of human misery, shame on you SBS and Fremantle.

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