Published Jan. 29, 2024
BY SHAYLA DUTTA
Netflix’s action show “The Brothers Sun” swings between violence and comedy with jarring ease, but between a stellar cast, an engaging plot and exciting action, it’s well worth the watch.
The show is based on Chinese triads, organized crime syndicates based in mainland China or Taiwan. The original Chinese Triad originated during the Qing Dynasty and is believed to be involved with major uprisings throughout Chinese history. In the 21st century, triads are often centered around illegal drug operations thought to rival or even surpass major cartels in Central and South America.
The premise effectively utilizes a lesser-known idea that lends itself to the well-loved moral grayness and intense characters of “Breaking Bad,” but with a greater emphasis on comedy than any of its present counterparts.
After the leader, known as the “Dragon Head,” is shot, his eldest son (Justin Chien) travels to Los Angeles to protect his mother and younger brother (Sam Li) from the many threats presented by violent power struggles among various triads. His mother (Michelle Yeoh) has sheltered Chien’s younger brother from the truth of their family for his entire life. As a result, Li’s character is a “soft” college student with a passion for improv comedy and a crippling fear of anything vaguely illegal.
The writers rely heavily on the dichotomy between Chien and Li’s characters for comic relief, just as they lean on random surprise attacks from anonymous assailants to create action scenes, especially in the earlier episodes. While these seemingly contrived scenes could be frustrating in another context, a talented action cast and ambitious fighting choreography makes them exciting, if rather gory.
And then there’s Michelle Yeoh. Yeoh, a decorated actress and international icon, reminded the world of her extraordinary action skills in the award-winning movie “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” leaving “The Brothers Sun” with the task of distinguishing her from the success of her past roles, which they are only able to do to a marginal extent. Yeoh’s character is predictable: self-assured, unflappable, and confident in the face of her eldest child’s reckless confidence.
Fortunately, the lack of innovation in her character does not stop Yeoh’s performance from standing out. Her action scenes, though limited, seem effortless, and the actress had previously perfected the role of tough-loving mother.
In the end, the new eight-episode series on Netflix pulls it off. The intermittent mediocrity is worth the exhilarating moments and occasional laughs.