Last Updated on January 12, 2024
PLOT: When the head of a powerful Taiwanese triad is shot by a mysterious assassin, his eldest son, legendary killer Charles “Chairleg” Sun heads to Los Angeles to protect his mother, Eileen, and his naive younger brother, Bruce — 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.
REVIEW: The range of international projects on Netflix is pretty impressive. With a focus on Korean dramas, Netflix has a dearth of series from India, China, and beyond. From comedy to action, horror, and more, Netflix exclusives have been big hits for the streaming platform for years. Blending the genre hits from overseas with a Western approach, the new series The Brothers Sun benefitted from an edge over other new shows thanks to the marquee presence of Oscar-winning actress Michelle Yeoh. Banking on Yeoh’s name recognition, The Brothers Sun is headlined by two newcomers in Justin Chien and Sam Song Li, as brothers on very different paths who must come together for the sake of their family, both genetic and criminal. A fun, funny, and action-packed show, The Brothers Sun is a solid binge to open the new year.
Opening with an action sequence set to the backdrop of The Great British Bake-Off, The Brothers Sun announces itself with a great hand-to-hand scene featuring martial arts, gunplay, and pastries. At first, I wondered if The Brothers Sun would play as a satire or comedy of action films, similar to Netflix’s recent Obliterated. Initially, the brutal violence was offset by a sense of humor, but the series settled into a balance of comedy and drama centered on the Sun family criminal empire. In Taiwan, we meet Charles Sun (Justin Chien), the eldest son of Big Sun (Johnny Kou), the leader of the Jade Dragons. When assassins from another crime family try to take down Big Sun, Charles must go to Los Angeles to find his mother, Eileen (Michelle Yeoh), and his younger brother, Bruce (Sam Song Li), before their enemies do. In LA, Charles learns that Bruce is an aspiring improv comic who knows nothing of his family’s illegal legacy. This also sets up the classic buddy dynamic between Charles and Bruce that drives the rest of the series.
Over the eight-episode first season, Charles and Bruce learn about each other and what was missing from their lives. The comedy elements play heavily when Bruce gets mixed up in the criminal side of the family’s actions, while the humor comes from the fish-out-of-water elements for both characters. I was pleased that Michelle Yeoh is a prominent figure in the story, unlike her role in American Born Chinese, a glorified cameo. Yeoh is an important figure in the story and gets involved in several major action sequences. The series also has a solid group of supporting players, notably Alice Hewkin as May and Joon Lee as TK, who factor into Bruce’s side of the story. Highdee Kuan is also a big part of the story as Alexis, Charles’ childhood friend from Taiwan, is now a cop in Los Angeles. Jenny Yang and Jon Xue Zhang are as good as Big Sun’s enforcers Xing and Blood Boots.
The Brothers Sun is split pretty evenly between scenes delivered in English and Taiwanese, with neither language feeling forced on the actors, who are both native English speakers and others who are experienced actors in China. I was most impressed by Justin Chien and Sam Song Li, who carry this series and the more recognizable ensemble. Chien, who has predominantly appeared in short films over the last few years, is solid as Charles, an experienced killer who yearns to be a baker. Sam Song Li, who has a big social media presence as turns in Better Call Saul, The Offer, and opposite Simu Liu in Women Is Losers, plays Bruce as nebbish and naive but also very funny. The chemistry between Chien and Li sells this series as the duo portrays believable siblings. The pair also work very well with Michelle Yeoh, forming a trifecta that makes The Brothers Sun work.
Developed by newcomer Byron Wu alongside veteran producer Brad Falchuk, best known for his co-productions with Ryan Murphy, including Glee, Pose, 9-1-1, and American Horror Story, The Brothers Sun benefits from never feeling disingenuous or artificial. The action balances with the well-written scripts from Falchuk, Wu, and a writing team that includes Andrew Law, Justin Calen-Chenn, Soojeong Son, Ally Seibert, Amy Wang, and Jason Ning. Kevin Tancharoen and Viet Nguyen helmed the eight-episode first season. Tancharoen is a veteran action director with experience on series like Titans, Warrior, Iron Fist, and The Flash, as well as the cult favorite web series Mortal Kombat: Rebirth and Mortal Kombat: Legacy. Both directors bring a solid eye for fight scenes to the series, which balances hand-to-hand fights with some gunplay. Virtually every episode has a substantial action sequence sandwiched by a solid narrative full of character development and moments both light and emotionally hefty.
Thanks to a hefty role from Michelle Yeoh, The Brothers Sun could be the first solid binge of 2024. With a good amount of action, a great amount of heart, and characters worth investing in, this series manages to blend elements of the series Netflix has been importing for years with an original story rooted in Hollywood storytelling. The Brothers Sun can potentially become a multi-season hit for Netflix when they need some good new IP, but even if it only comprises these eight episodes, it will be a win for viewers. Funny, violent, and well-acted, The Brothers Sun is a good way to start 2024, assuming you had a resolution for dead drug dealers, gunfights, and family squabbling.
The Brothers Sun premieres on January 4th on Netflix.