Many people have complex family lives. Private affairs are tucked in the corners of attics, shoved in closets or kept under wraps by elders– shocking the younger generations when these hidden histories are finally revealed. For the Suns, whose family ties stretch from Los Angeles to Taiwan, secrets are only the tip of the iceberg. Created by Brad Falchuk and Byron Wu, “The Brothers Sun” is a thrilling, brilliant dramedy about familial obligations, buried skeletons and the bonds that can never be broken.
The eight-episode series opens in a luxurious penthouse in the glittering city of Taipei. Charles (Justin Chien), the eldest Sun brother, is spending the evening watching “The Great British Baking Show” and perfecting his latest dessert recipe. However, before the timer on his cake buzzes, he is attacked by assassins. Though he rises from the fighting unscathed, his father, Big Sun (Johnny Kou), the head of a Taiwanese secret gangster triad, the Jade Dragons, doesn’t fare well. With Big Sun in a coma and unnamed enemies still afoot, Charles sets off on a quest to L.A., where his mother, Eileen (Michelle Yeoh) and his younger brother, Bruce (Sam Song Li), have been living a “normal” life for the past 15 years.
While Charles, who looks like a bearded action figure come to life, spends his days wielding weapons, perfecting roundkicks and being his father’s right hand, Bruce has lived a very different existence. A pre-med student who drives Lyft for extra cash and hides his love of improv theater, he barely dares to speak to women, let alone defend himself. Wholly sheltered and oblivious to the family business, Bruce is indoctrinated into the triad world quickly when he walks in on his brother and mother, dismembering a body in their outdated kitchen.
“The Brothers Sun’s” electrifying sequences are fun and dynamic, but the episodes contain much more than pure thrills. Since adversaries are after the Sun family, Bruce is quickly thrust into a world he knows nothing about. Desperate to impress his older brother and keep his mother safe, the show is infused with a ton of humorous moments as Bruce stumbles to understand Mandarin, cowers at any sight of gore and tries to heed Eileen’s stern direction never to miss school, and to give up improv — which she deems an embarrassment.
Endlessly entertaining, the series has a cultural specificity unveiling communities rarely seen in depictions of L.A., including the group of Chinese aunties who gossip at mahjong games to the Korean Spa, where a pow-wow between the Suns and another powerful triad goes dreadfully awry. The show shows how vital these hubs are to their communities, and how they are so easily overlooked by a general public that is often intent on othering and ignoring them.
As Bruce attempts to untangle the family secrets, Charles considers a quieter life away from his father’s influence. He even reconnects with an alluring old friend, Alexis (Highdee Kuan), who has her own motives for getting close to him. While the series centers on the tenuous bond between the brothers, “The Brothers Sun” is also about Eileen, the real brains behind the Jade Dragons. Yeoh is fierce and cutthroat in the role, alternately motherly and vicious from one turn to the next. She even has intricate fighting sequences, showcasing her knife skills so the boys don’t have all the fun.
With a narrative that spans only a few weeks, the audience is along for the ride as Bruce tries to come to grips with legacy and tradition and how emotion and obligation play into both. While Charles is trying to decide if he should live for himself or the family, Eileen and Big Sun are considering the promises they’ve made each other and how their lies and ambitions have ultimately wounded their children.
“The Brothers Sun” has the perfect mix of comedy and drama. It’s a narrative about what’s expected, what can be endured and how much we are willing to give up so others can live out their dreams. Though it provides Yeoh a showcase that she’s more than earned, the series also introduces Chien and Li as two mega talents who will undoubtedly continue to grace our screens.
“The Brothers Sun” premieres on Netflix Jan. 4.