Michelle Yeoh Is a Smooth Criminal in Netflix’s ‘The Brothers Sun’
Netflix’s “The Brothers Sun” is a colorful take on a classic storyline typically used in superhero movies. There are always those individuals that wish there was more to their life than what is. That somehow they might have a more colorful background that can finally get rid of life’s boredom. This plot rarely fails and here it’s used for a zany entertainment. What defines the eight-episodes of this series’ first season is a genuine sense of fun. Gangster clichés are splashed everywhere and slick assassins do moves not even a ballerina can do onstage, but we buy it because it has style and Michelle Yeoh.
The first Sun sibling that we meet is Charles Sun (Justin Chien), who is making a cake in his lavish Taipei penthouse. As tends to happen, masked hitmen burst in and Charles beats them all down with “The Great British Bake Off” playing in the background. It’s not surprising someone would try to kill Charles when we learn that his dad, Big Sun (Johnny Kou), is the leader of the Jade Dragons, a large criminal organization in the infamous Triads. Charles suspects it was the work of a rival gangster, Sleepy Chan (Ben Wang). After someone tries to take out Big Sun, Charles leaves for Los Angeles to protect his mother, Eileen (Yeoh), and brother, Bruce (Sam Song Li). To Charles’ surprise, Eileen made such an effort to hide their family history that Bruce is totally clueless. He’s also a soft, overly nice medical student who loves improv comedy.
Sustaining a tone is hard for any production but “The Brothers Sun” impressively balances dramedy with action. Creator Brad Falchuk, a veteran of multiple Ryan Murphy shows, understands the genres at play and never gets too serious or mundane. He’s also not seeking to reinvent the wheel. This series is out to entertain and it succeeds. But the down to earth comedy sells it best. Bruce is introduced as having problems any regular resident of L.A. might be grappling with at the moment. He can’t pay next semester’s tuition and takes a friend’s offer to try selling drugs at a nightclub. He is, of course, disastrous at it. Charles is the impressive brother who is an alpha male with a hidden heart of gold. But how could an assassin not feel embarrassed by having such a softie for a sibling? What begins as two opposites clashing turns into an endearing team-up between Charles and Bruce. Charles has own faults, which Big Sun likes to emphasize, like killing attackers too fast before grabbing any useful information.
“The Brothers Sun” has a lot of the neon flourishes of other action series. Drug dealers are designed to look like they are taken out of anime thrillers and this series has no qualms about nodding at films or shows such as “John Wick” and “Warrior.” A seafood joint is a front for a gang while thugs have to dress up as dinosaurs to enter a birthday party. This is the kind of series with assassins called Blood Boots (Jon Xue Zhang). But the characters are sketched out well enough to keep us intrigued beyond the popcorn surface level. Charles reconnects with a past crush, Alexis (Highdee Kuan), who is now a cop, which, of course, complicates the situation. Joon Lee is a scene stealer as TK, Bruce’s best friend who first tries to get him into the drug game but soon turns into a fanboy of his buddy being a Sun. Madison Hu is another fun addition as Grace, a classmate of Bruce’s who introduces herself by announcing that she “takes a big poop” before any major exam. She is absolutely charming as that fellow nerd Bruce needs in his life, now more than ever.
There is never a doubt however that the real heart of “The Brothers Sun” is Michelle Yeoh. After her big Oscar win for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” she is in demand for projects of this kind but she’s not repeating herself. Once again, Yeoh looks great wielding a blade and nonchalantly walking over a dead assassin in her kitchen, but Yeoh’s Eileen is a firm matriarch who can easily give orders. She keeps Charles leveled and watches out for Bruce. She doesn’t want him to become some hardened killer and argues that having a doctor in the family wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Of course, Bruce hasn’t told her his love for improv is turning into more than just a hobby. Charles likes to throw lush pastries, but no one doubts his real calling is to run the family business. Yeoh is particularly funny in this series as well because she is never pretending, as if she is in on the joke. How Eileen so calmly talks about keeping the Sun family secret from Bruce and complaining about a mess Charles made in the house after a fight is brilliantly low-key.
“The Brothers Sun” also continues the emerging expansion of Asian stories as seen in Netflix’s “Beef.” Asian American stories are finally receiving the kind of scope and budgets they deserve, as also seen in Apple TV’s “Pachinko.” This one is a fun popcorn escape but done without going cheap. It has style, a few arthouse flourishes and stellar casting. Some of the plot gets ludicrous but with meticulous care in the production values. And, many viewers will relate to it. When the bills come due or the bank account suffers, it would be nice to discover your distant relatives wield enormous power and cash. At least that’s the fantasy. Crime isn’t supposed to pay, but a series like this can’t help but pull us in to root for its underworld family.
“The Brothers Sun” season one begins streaming Jan. 4 on Netflix.