The Brothers Sun
Brad Falchuk Tely-Vision, 2024
Brad Falchuk, Amy Wang, Brandon Wu
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Movies and TV shows that make you laugh or involve physical activities like dance and exercise
Movies and TV shows about toughness and athletic competition
I love this entertaining 8-episode series about a family’s struggle to break free of longstanding cultural and familial constraints. This action-packed series, which combines spoken English and English subtitles, features the Sun family. Big Sun and his early 30-something-year-old son Charles live in Taiwan and run the Jade Dragons segment of the notorious Triads criminal organization. Mother Eileen and her 20-year-old son Bruce have lived a “normal life” in Los Angeles for over 10 years. Apart in mindset and physical distance, the Suns are nonetheless bonded by a secret held by Eileen that gives her family leverage should anything in the Triads organization go awry.
Led by Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh as Eileen Sun, The Brothers Sun mixes drama, humor, and a lot of martial arts to draw us into this story about the tension between traditional and unconventional lifestyles. When Charles, played by Justin Chien, is attacked in his home and Big Sun (Johnny Kou) is shot by the unknown assailant, leaving him in a coma, Charles flies to Los Angeles to protect his estranged kin until it is determined who is out to destroy the Suns.
The Brothers Sun has the cinematography and feel of a Quentin Tarantino film to go along with a soundtrack that is broad in genre. Rap, doo wop, guoyue, smooth rock, country, techno club music, and Asian club music combine to give the film a deep texture. But the heavy mix of music takes away from the production. A soundtrack typically functions as the glue that connects the scenes, so the production feels seamless. Here, multiple genres of music disrupt this continuity and, at times, make it unclear how to interpret the presentation. At one point in the story, for example, Charles gets his heart broken. In a subsequent episode, he sings Sheryl Crow’s version of “The First Cut is the Deepest” on a karaoke machine in what comes across as a moment of hilarity. But is this meant to be funny or a dramatic expression of his feelings? Frequently, in the series, there seems to be a disconnect between the music and the event, making it difficult to interpret the work. But then again, maybe the point is to not take ourselves too seriously.
The humor in the series draws from its extensive contrasts. Having been raised in the U.S., for example, Bruce, played by Sam Song Li (Never Have I Ever, Better Call Saul), has a lighthearted and easygoing personality. Charles, on the other hand, takes on a more stoic demeanor, having been raised with traditional expectations of being the family’s protector and his father’s right hand man. Add Charles and Bruce’s blood relation and the fact that they are becoming reacquainted, we not only laugh, but become invested.
In this sense, The Brothers Sun adopts the tactics of the long-running series, Frasier, where Frasier’s upscale lifestyle frequently clashes with his live-in father’s (Martin) working-class simplicity. Moments such as Martin mounting a big screen television on Frasier’s living room wall, Martin’s dog Eddie that cramped Frasier’s style, and the ever-present tattered recliner were all frequent sources of humor throughout the show’s 11 seasons.
No one in The Brothers Sun is who they appear to be, and everyone wants to be someone they are not. Charles, a career killer and top member of a major organized crime family, is obsessed with being a pastry chef. Bruce, a pre-med student, wants to do improv, so unbeknownst to his mother, he sneakily takes improv classes at night. Envious that his brother is recognized as brave, Bruce brags to him that he is a “rebel.” Charles responds, “A rebel if [Mom] knows about it. If she doesn’t, just a liar.” Also in the series, everyone wants everyone else to be someone they are not, such as when Charles gives Bruce an ultimatum to be a gangster or not be his brother. Bruce wants his mother to revert to who she was before Charles arrived - a typical mom who works a 9 to 5 and is otherwise home and available.
The women in this series are as competent at fighting as the men, with stiff competition even in cross-gender battles. The series has an Asian-diverse cast, with characters from China, Taiwan, and South Korea. For groups that are missing, they are seen in other ways, such as Bruce’s mention of the “Filipino cover band” on his t-shirt. With a film grounded in Asian representations, it can be argued that the broad music genres are meant as an invitation to other groups to enjoy the entertainment experience that The Brothers Sun offers.
There are a few exaggerations in The Brothers Sun, which were likely intentionally inserted for comedic purposes. Although this is Charles’ first trip to Los Angeles, for example, he drives himself around town without the help of GPS - as if he is familiar with LA’s geography. Furthermore, in this age of smartphones, Charles uses a flip phone, which is especially hilarious when we consider that Taiwan is the biggest semiconductor chip producer in the world.
The Brothers Sun is a fun, fun series, so much so that you might be tempted to binge-watch it. Be forewarned, though, that there are quite a few jokes and quips around weight that could be offensive to some people. Note that this is a cultural issue. What is considered heavy, thin, or even just right varies from culture to culture. Keeping this in mind would be helpful as you hear some of these lines.
What we learn from this film is that there are different kinds of strengths and toughness. While Bruce lacks physical prowess, martial arts skills, and suave, he often comes up with helpful ideas. Charles, on the other hand, is brave, strong, and capable, but to no surprise he has a tender side. As overlooked as women often are in most cultures, Eileen is a strategist, a planner who shares what is necessary and only when it is ready for sharing. Sounds like a lot of moms, right?