Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Nowhere Man’ On Netflix, A Taiwanese Drama About A Death Row Inmate Who Desperately Breaks Out

Have you ever stared at the first episode of a streaming series in complete confusion? Who are these people? Who do they work for? What’s the background of what their situation is? Who are the main players? Why are they being chased? Almost all these questions came to our mind when we watched Netflix’s first Mandarin-language show, Nowhere Man. Read on for more…


Opening Shot: A dreamy scene of a mom driving her son to school and watching as he climbs up the stairs with his umbrella. The we switch to a nightmarish scene in a prison, where a death-row inmate is watching himself dying in his cell.

The Gist: Ah Quan (Joseph Chang) is on death row in a Taipei prison, and that he wakes up from seeing both visions.

It’s a hint that Quan can see into the future, even from other people’s perspectives, in his dreams. We flash back to 2006, where we see Quan and one of his brothers in a massive fight with a large group, and he’s presented to Boss Qiu to join his gang. We see Quan hanging out with his triad buddies, helping his mother with her rib stand, making fun of each other as well as getting into skirmishes. We also see them enforcing Boss Qiu’s business interests.

The fourth member of the group is Fu Xing, Quan’s brother. He is on the spectrum and looks to his big brother as his protection, but Quan is afraid tagging along with him will get Fu Xing in trouble. Jiang Jing-fan (Alyssa Chia) is the love of Quan’s life, and he’s also concerned that something may happen to her. When we flash forward to the prison, the old man Quan had a vision of actually has a heart attack and dies. We also see that Fu Xing is in prison, where Quan has to calm him down in order to keep him safe.

Flash to 2009. Qiu’s boss dies and Jing-fan is pregnant with Quan’s child. The triad, along with Fu Xing, are led to meet the second boss, but the meeting spot keeps getting moved. At one location, an old man gets shot, and says “where’s the boy?” Fu Xing, saying “I’m sorry,” finds the child, and Quan puts both in the trunk of a stolen car. After a chase, the boys are cornered, and will be accused of kidnapping.

Photo: Mark Wu/Netflix

Our Take: That recap you just read above? It’s one of the most difficult ones we have ever written. Because Nowhere Man‘s first episode moves so slowly, is so disjointed, and is so devoid of exposition that it was impossible to know just what in the living hell was going on. Netflix’s first Mandarin-language original series is the vision of Yin-Jung Chen (aka DJ Chen), and it’s ostensibly supposed to be about how Quan breaks out of death row due to his ability to see into the future via his dreams; in those visions, he sees that his son has been kidnapped.

But we had no idea about any of that by the end of the grueling hour-long first episode. We barely could keep track of who everyone was. There seemed to be a lot of rambling, minor scenes that showed everyone’s relationships, but didn’t move the plot along or set up anything beyond these guys working for a particular gang. Perhaps context is needed, or a knowledge of gangs in Taipei. But the lack of coherence and rapid Mandarin dialogue caused us to hit the “back 10 seconds” button over and over in desperation, just trying to catch a missed snippet of dialogue that might have unlocked just what the hell we were watching.

Some of the story came together at the end as two of the triad and Fu Xing were chased by the cops, but we still have no idea at what point Quan will hatch his plan to break out of prison.

The performances are fine; more subtle and understated than we’ve seen from Netflix’s other Taiwanese productions — all of which, to this point, have been in Taiwanese Hokkien or Cantonese. But decent performances aren’t going to help when there doesn’t seem to be a semblance of a plot.

Sex and Skin: Nothing beyond some kissing.

Parting Shot: Knowing he’s surrounded, Quan comes out with a knife to the kid’s neck, demanding he get a chance to call his wife in the hospital.

Sleeper Star: We liked Mavis Fan, who plays Bai Lan, a reluctant “object of affection” for Boss Qiu, who looks like she’ll rise through the ranks of the gang as the years go on.

Most Pilot-y Line: Almost everything. For instance, the traffic stop that leads to Quan getting chased by the cops seems to last forever, with seemingly dramatic pauses between each line of dialogue. It’s supposed to build tension, but it just put us to sleep.

Our Call: SKIP IT. You’ll be so confused by the end of the first episode of Nowhere Man that you’ll have no problem trying to find something else.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon,,,,, Billboard and elsewhere.

Stream Nowhere Man On Netflix

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