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TV Review: ‘The Brothers Sun’


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Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun in 'The Brothers Sun.'

Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun in ‘The Brothers Sun.’ Photo: Michael Desmond/Netflix © 2023.

Premiering on Netflix January 4th, ‘The Brothers Sun’ is a blend of martial arts action and comedy that follows a family whose Taiwan-set criminal empire spills over into Southern California.

Looking to channel the style of Jackie Chan, this new series from Byron Wu and Brad Falchuk (the latter of whom is more normally found working with Ryan Murphy on his various shows) is a mostly successful mix of laughter, family drama and stunt-filled set pieces.

Does ‘The Brothers Sun’ shine?

Zhan Wang as Yuan, Johnny Kou as Big Sun in 'The Brothers Sun.'

(L to R) Zhan Wang as Yuan, Johnny Kou as Big Sun in ‘The Brothers Sun.’ Photo: Michael Desmond/Netflix © 2023.

The new series will certainly appeal to those who are fans of Michelle Yeoh (and who isn’t a fan of Michelle Yeoh?) and while it might not offer the splendidly surreal delights of something along the lines of ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’, it has enough to keep you pressing play on the next episode.

While stories about Asian-American kids struggling with the staider values of their immigrant parents are very common these days (it’s a part of the aforementioned ‘Everything Everywhere’), ‘The Brothers Sun’ has other elements to offer, including some very dynamic fight scenes and appealing (with one or two appalling by design) characters.

It feels like a new spin on established concepts, with solid work from the cast and some tricky plotting to tie it all together.

‘The Brothers Sun’: Script and Direction

Justin Chien as Charles Sun in 'The Brothers Sun.'

Justin Chien as Charles Sun in ‘The Brothers Sun.’ Photo: Michael Desmond/Netflix © 2023.

Working with a writers’ room that included Justin Calen-Chenn, Soojeong Son, Amy Wang, Andrew Law, Jason Ning and Ally Seibert, Wu and Falchuk keep various plotlines bubbling along, managing to juggle the various characters without having them feel like they’re fighting for attention.

Justin Chien’s Charles Sun, for example (the older brother of the two here who remained in Taiwan and became an enforcer for his father) could just be your typically stoic, gruff warrior, but he’s leavened via an obsession with ‘The Great British Baking Show’ (which actually plays into his character instead of simply being a throwaway quirk), while Sam Song Li’s Bruce Sun manages to be more than just a wimpy, Americanized Chinese student –– he has layers, too, even beyond his love of improvisational theater.

On the directing front, with duties handled by Kevin Tancharoen (‘Fame’, ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’) and Viet Nguyen (‘iZombie’, ‘The Flash’), the show looks as slick as you might hope, with the set pieces effective fight scenes that also help further the story.

Related Article: Sydney Taylor and Ben Wang Talk Disney+’s ‘American Born Chinese’

‘The Brothers Sun’: Performances

Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun in 'The Brothers Sun.'

Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun in ‘The Brothers Sun.’ Photo: Michael Desmond/Netflix © 2023.

Somewhat naturally, Yeoh is fantastic as the mother of the family, who made the decision to move her youngest child to America in order to protect him from the gangland world. While she’s initially seen as a harried single mother, and you wonder whether there will be another side to her… just wait.

Chien does solid work as Charles, who finds himself caught between the world he knows and understands and figuring out how to protect his brother in a place where he doesn’t have the same resources as he does in Taiwan –– but he’s certainly still resourceful. Chien injects welcome frustration and charisma into the role.

Song Li has the more comedic side of things to handle, and he pulls it off well, without slipping into full farce except where it’s warranted. He’s also able to adapt to whatever twists and turns the story throws at Bruce. And the character doesn’t suddenly become a martial arts expert –– he remains the goofy charmer, letting his brother handle it.

As Bruce’s best pal and wannabe bigshot TK, Joon Lee brings plenty of added comic value to a relatively small role, but he’s always more than the basic “funny friend”.

Does every character work on the level of the leads? Not completely –– some slip into cliché and others aren’t given the space they might need to break out of their assigned roles (and a few are mostly disposable gang henchmen, but then there are always some of those in a story such as this). And the dynamic between the brothers and their father is also not as effective as that between them and their mother, but that’s partly because the dad has less screen time and that the person who plays him is, well, not Michelle Yeoh (though Johnny Kou is still good as Big Sun).

‘The Brothers Sun’: Final Thoughts

Sam Song Li as Bruce Sun, Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun in 'The Brothers Sun.'

(L to R) Sam Song Li as Bruce Sun, Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun in ‘The Brothers Sun.’ Photo: Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.

There have been some encouraging forward movement on Asian representation across the media in the last few years, and ‘The Brothers Sun’ helps that along in its own way.

The limited series –– there is scope for more if this is a success, though it feels like the best story was told first –– has a slickly told story and some nimble sequences.

While there is the expected culture clash and parental/child issues, it’s a fresh and funny look at both that also manages to be a crime story, a family drama and an occasionally wacky comedy. The mixture sometimes doesn’t completely gel, but when it does, it’s a smoothly executed, entertaining series.

‘The Brothers Sun’ receives 7.5 out of 10 stars.

Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun, Chau Long as Steve in 'The Brother’s Sun.'

(L to R) Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun, Chau Long as Steve in ‘The Brother’s Sun.’ Photo: Michael Desmond/Netflix © 2023.

What’s the story of ‘The Brothers Sun’?

When the head of a powerful Taiwanese triad is shot by a mysterious assassin, his eldest son, legendary killer Charles “Chairleg” Sun (Justin Chien) heads to Los Angeles to protect his mother, Eileen (Michelle Yeoh), and his naive younger brother, Bruce (Sam Song Li) — who’s been completely sheltered from the truth of his family until now.

But as Taipei’s deadliest societies and a new rising faction go head-to-head for dominance — Charles, Bruce and their mother must heal the wounds caused by their separation and figure out what brotherhood and family truly mean before one of their countless enemies kills them all.

Who is in ‘The Brothers Sun’?

Alongside the three leads, the cast also includes Johnny Kou, Highdee Kuan, Alice Hewkin, Joon Lee,Jenny Yang and Jon Xue Zhang.

Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun in 'The Brothers Sun.'

Michelle Yeoh as Mama Sun in ‘The Brothers Sun.’ Photo: Courtesy of Netflix © 2023.

Movies Similar to ‘The Brother’s Sun’:

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