Netflix Original The Brothers Sun captures action and family with a kick to the teeth. The series was created by Brad Falchuk and Byron Wu, who serve as showrunners, and directed by Kevin Tancharoen and Viet Nguyen. Additionally, the series is written by an all-Asian writers’ room with Wu, Falchuk, Justin Calen-Chenn, Soojeong Son, Amy Wang, Andrew Law, Jason Ning, and Ally Seibert. Legendary killer and eldest son Charles “Chairleg” Sun (Justin Chien) flees the country when a mysterious assassin shoots the head of a Taiwanese triad.
In a panic, Charles heads to Los Angeles to protect his family, Eileen (Michelle Yeoh), and younger brother, Bruce (Sam Song Li). While Charles has lived the life of a gangster his entire life, he finds in LA that his family has been living a calm, boring life. His mother plays mahjong and clips coupons, and his brother is naive beyond belief. Not just sheltered from violence either, but from the truth about his family.
Their father’s righthand, Charles, is legendary for his violence and for keeping every other Triad in check. But with his father in a coma, Charles has to protect his family, find who’s targeting them, and get his brother to school for a test. He does this all while Taipei’s deadliest societies and a new rising faction go head-to-head for dominance. In addition to the action, Charles, Bruce, and their mother must heal the wounds caused by their separation and figure out what family means to them. They must do it all with countless enemies hunting them. The Brothers Sun is an action-packed comedy and family drama, and has enough thrilling moments to hit hard.
The first thing that stands out is how good the fight sequences in The Brothers Sun are. Quick-paced and detailed using the entire environment, the action is hard, fast, and dynamic. While there is one moment where a stunt double change for Xing (Jenny Yang) during a fight is noticeable, there are very few flaws. Every character in a fight scene has the space to do so. The director and cinematographer give every frame of action enough distance to show off the fight choreography. They give actors the space for their choreography and allow them to do so without relying on editing. In fact, it’s surprising how few jump-cuts are in the series, and it’s better for it.
Kinetic and never the same bit twice, The Brothers Sun offers large action sequences that view fighting as storytelling. It captures the dynamic approach to action that involves using an entire set while also understanding the comedy that naturally comes from the absurdity of violence on screen. A lot of that is the fight choreography and blocking, but the rest? Well, that praise goes directly to The Brothers Sun cast, which includes Johnny Kou, Joon Lee, Jon Xue Zhang, Madison Hu, Johnny Kou, Alice Hewkin, and Ron Yuan, in addition to the others listed.
If there is something other than its action that makes The Brothers Sun stand out in the television landscape, it’s how it defies expectations. While The Brother’s Sun’s narrative isn’t something entirely new on paper, the execution is something thrilling and unique. Every character, even the ensemble, has at least one trait at their core that makes them different from the usual action trope.
For Charles, it’s that he wants to be a baker but also that he chooses not to leave the triad life. Charles grows and changes beyond who he was when he first showed up in the US. However, nothing negates his past; it only informs who he decides he wants to become. For that part, Justin Chien, as Charles, is a fantastic action star but also a stellar and emotional actor. Throughout the eight-episode series, we see Charles give into rage, become debilitated by grief, and struggle with who he is. Charles is allowed to be violent, but he’s also allowed to be soft and vulnerable.
Bruce is a pre-med student who is genuinely good at school but wants to be a comedian, of all things. Despite being hounded by gangsters, Bruce is the light of the show. He is pushed morally at every turn but comes out of every dilemma on his own course. He relies on little old mahjong aunties when he needs to save his mother. When he needs to save his family, he does what he needs to but doesn’t lose his kindness. If anything, he creates a new path for the Suns, working against the expectations of Triad traditions.
Charles and Bruce are worlds apart, but they’re each vital to the story and how the action unfolds. Between the two of them, the audience also explores the complexity of brotherhood. Unexpectedly, The Brothers Sun doesn’t just deal with traditional action elements. It also handles how hard it is to be a child. Charles has had to carry every family sin because he is the first son. He has to carry his family’s honor and their fears, and he is also a shield for his kid brother. But it also means that Charles becomes a sacrifice to filial piety, and Bruce gets to escape it.
The weight of being the eldest is hard to carry. The Brothers Sun captures that pain perfectly. The writers often ask the audience to feel sympathy for Bruce’s situation. We’re also shown how Charles is virtually disposable to his parents. He is supposed to be the family’s spear and shield, with no thought of his own mental health or trauma. Charles goes through pain in order to spare Bruce, and as the eldest in my own family, that resonated brilliantly.
Mama Sun keeps Bruce from violence, but she holds him so tightly that he isn’t ready for the world. Be that paying his tuition on time or girls. Sure, he doesn’t have to face every day of the criminal underworld, but he also has no idea who his family is. He is missing a piece of who he is in the process. Both sons carry a burden. It’s only when they share it that they get a resolution and understanding.
Most importantly, it’s Eileen who defies any preconceived notion the viewer has about her. Eileen Sun is the matriarch of the Sun Family. She loves her kids; she feels for them, and she would kill for them. Motherhood defines Eileen, or rather, it’s what people have defined her by. In an emotional conversation with Bruce, Mama Sun reveals that she does, in fact, want to be in the Triad. She wants to lead it, and she deserves to do so. She is ruthless and strategic in ways that her husband is not. More importantly, she is the foundation of the Jade Dragons’ success. However, to everyone, she is a mother and nothing else.
Eileen represents a complex look at femininity and motherhood. Not just in her final choice in The Brothers Sun but in every small choice she makes over the season. She is responsible for every big move, and yet she does so with small, delicate moments. Yeoh as Mama Sun is a revelation of complexity, filled with an unwavering amount of power even in the face of danger. Eileen is strong in a way that doesn’t even rely on Yeoh’s extensive martial arts training but rather her ability to command a room with just a look or a soft voice. To create a character in an action series that doesn’t have to fight to wield influence and strength, well, that’s perfection. Although when she does see action herself, it’s the perfect accent to her character.
Words can’t capture how stunning Yeoh’s performance as Eileen is. Yeoh has the ability to be cold and calculating and be full of emotion and tears in the next scene. Eileen is fantastic and resilient in ways that I didn’t expect, particularly with the complexity that the showrunners wrote her with, highlighted by the nuance of her experience.
On top of fantastic character work, The Brothers Sun also deserves praise for how the writers tackle comedy. The series’ humor shines in both physical and dialogue. The comedic timing is thought through, from line deliveries to punches and even ambient noises. Even the running gags, like the best churros in town, never overstay their welcome.
Ultimately, The Brothers Sun is able to subvert the expectations of action fans by deeply understanding action cinema, Hong Kong cinema, and, ultimately, how the US represents Chinese characters in action-filled stories. Tropes are engaged from a place of understanding the past, where to honor, and where to ignore. In some cases, the showrunners reclaim tropes, like the Triad story itself, and in others, they throw them away. There is a deep love for the cinematic history of a genre. Yet, the series never feels like a copy-paste of what came before. It wears its inspirations as accents and does so beautifully.
The Brothers Sun is an undeniably electric as a start to television in 2024. More impressively, though, the series is also easily a new standard bearer for action. The Brothers Sun is as brutal in its violent action as it is heartfelt in its take on family and understanding. There is truly nothing like it out there.
The Brothers Sun is streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.
The Brothers Sun
The Brothers Sun is an undeniably electric as a start to television in 2024. More impressively, though, the series is also easily a new standard bearer for action.