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  • Writer's pictureLauren

The APAHM Project Days 2-9: The Brothers Sun

Series: The Brothers Sun

Created By: Byron Wu and Brad Falchuk

Release: 2024

Where to Watch: Netflix

Wanna Skip? Pick a Movie from APAHM Project 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020

Why It Made The List:

If you were to Google or Wiki "The Brothers Sun," you wouldn't find much information. Many of the actors don't even have a Wikipedia page. Promotions from Netflix are scarce. And the headlines you would find would read something along the lines of "Cancelled After One Season." And that is a darn shame.

My Thoughts:

I should warn you now that I don't have a firm outline made for this post and that means there is a strong chance I will, at some point, go on a tangent about streaming services and the longevity of television shows and even movies. But let's talk about the amazing show that is "The Brothers Sun."

We begin the show in Taipei and meet Charles "Chairleg" Sun, the son of a triad leader, assassin, and amateur baker. From the very beginning, we know that Charles has two sides to his life, that of a perfectionist baker and that of a stone-hearted killer. After being attacked in his home, Charles' father, Big Sun, comes to visit and is shot, leaving him in a comatose state. Charles assumes that the group behind the attack is working under triad leader Sleepy Chan. Charles' advisor reminds him that if anything ever happened to Big Sun, Charles is to protect his mother and brother in Los Angeles, but warns him of future attacks. Charles doesn't seem bothered and is confident that his brother, who he hasn't seen in over 10 years, will be able to help him. However, we quickly learn that Charles and his brother are very different.

We cut and meet Bruce, a pre-med student who loves improv, however is discouraged to pursue this hobby. Bruce is a Lyft driver and you can tell he is envious of womanizer men who drive fancy cars. Bruce gets home late and removes his shoes at the door. One shoe falls off the rack and he decides to leave it on the floor. But a few seconds later, Bruce goes back and puts the shoe back on the shelf properly, revealing that as hard as he wants to be a more rebellious person, it is not in his nature.

Charles arrives at his mother and brother's house only to be attacked yet again. Charles' mother, Eileen, played by Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh, comes home to find the dead man's body and Charles smoking a cigarette. Charles is quickly reminded that Eileen is still very much his mother despite the years apart. Bruce learns the truth about his family and that's when things really get kicked into high gear.

Now that we have the basic premise down, let's talk about casting. I appreciate that TBS chose fresh faces for their show. Besides Michelle Yeoh, I didn't recognize many of the cast. It is refreshing to see shows and movies tap into new talent instead of seeing the same handful of actors from "Crazy Rich Asians". Like seriously, how many shows are we going to see Ronny Chieng in? And how many cartoon birds with Awkafina's voice are we gonna have to listen to? There are so many talented Asian performers out there waiting to be tapped. TBS stars Justin Chien as Charles. Chien graduated from USC and previously starred in Sun Moon. Sam Li plays Bruce and I think his performance is truly the stand out of TBS. Bruce is not just the comedic relief, but also the heart of the Sun family. Naive to how the triads work, Bruce just wants his family to have a chance at normalcy. Using his cleverness and improv skills, Bruce has worked his way out of some sticky situations. Often labeled as "soft," Bruce is not afraid to shed a tear or two, whether out of fear or overwhelming emotions. Rounding out the cast are Jenny Yang, Madison Hu (of Disney Channel's "Bizaardvark"), Highdee Kuan, Alice Hawking, and Joon Lee (who I know from a few WongFu shorts). TBS casting proves that there are enough Asian actors to carry a show, debunking the idea that we need white counterparts (or straight up white washing) to reach mass audiences and be successful.

Going along with our theme of defying expectations, almost every character in TBS is more than what they seem. Almost all the characters are told who they should be or what they can't do. But for times sake, let's focus on the main three characters: Charles, Bruce, and Eileen.

We already know Charles loves to bake. From the beginning, he puts so much care into the details of his pasteries and gets frustrated when his latest creation gets burned in the oven while he fights his attackers. Charles was raised to be his father's successor. Notorious even overseas, "Chairleg"'s name alone is feared due to the story that he killed a restaurant full of men with just a chair leg at the age of 15. Charles is someone who faces things head on and uses violence to solve his problems, which doesn't always have the most effective results. However, the more time Charles spends with Bruce, the lighter he becomes. He indulges in churros and tries to perfect the recipe, he watches soap operas, he sings karaoke. Despite all of this, most people, including his family, only see Charles as a killer. Eileen even states "everyone thinks he is just a violent fighter, but he has forged through violence for one purpose. To lead us....Charles is the most capable soldier but he will always only be that. A soldier, forever bound by duty." Blood Boots tells Charles that he had no choice. Charles never got to choose if he wanted the life of a gangster. In fact, it is revealed that the entire restaurant/Chairleg incident was planned by Big Sun. His entire identity has been molded and forged to be that dutiful soldier his father wanted. Bruce, and his freedom to choose improv, is a constant reminder of the life Charles can never have. A life where he can frolick on the beach with a girl, choose improv, have school as a priority. These are all luxuries that Charles was denied. Charles says in episode 7 that "want" is a useless word. Charles isn't allowed to want anything that isn't in line with his father's wishes. Instead he does what is needed to protect the family. Charles acts like a jerk to Bruce in front of his old Taipei friends. When Bruce calls him out and comments that Charles would rather be watching the cooking channel, he points out that he is hiding who he really is. Bruce knows that Charles wants more to life and wants him to have that option.

Throughout TBS, Bruce is described as soft, good, sweet, predictable, American, not typical, and weak. Bruce is a pre-med student with a intrigue for improv. He wants to be the "cool" guy but knows he is just sort of a nerd. He himself says he is not trying to be brave or tough and he's not trying to prove anything. Even though Bruce has zero fighting skills, he proves that he is an important asset to the Sun family, something Charles acknowledges early on by saying he isn't typical, but he is useful. Bruce uses his wit, logic, and improv skills to get out of situations. When he is kidnapped and tortured, he uses logic to compromise with June. When Charles is in a bind, Bruce releases a water Minotaur to distract the cops. When Eileen is kidnapped, Bruce gathers the aunties at mah jong to storm the warehouse and rescue his mom. Bruce even tricks the sneaky Alexis with his impressive acting chops. However, Bruce does begin to have some violent tendencies. He stabs a man's hand and shoots his father. Bruce has stated that he has and will do whatever it takes to protect Charles because he knows what it means to be a brother. Bruce is not caught up in this war with the triads because he wants to have a gangster life, but so he can have his old one back. As well as free Charles from this lifestyle. Bruce acts out of his love for his family. He tells the Boxers the true identities of the triad heads in a deal to protect his brother and mother. He then reveals the location of the meeting so that the triads can be wiped away for good. Once it is revealed that he has done this, he is faced with anger from both Charles and Eileen. Eileen blames Bruce for losing the life she earned and deserved. She had to leave a life of money and power to take care of Bruce as a single mother. Charles feels betrayed by Bruce. However, Bruce is trying to protect the family, a motto we hear throughout the series. But Bruce isn't trying to protect power or money or operations. He wants to protect the individual people. Even when Big Sun tried to have him killed, Bruce used his cleverness to turn his father into the cops. Bruce has shown that he is capable of protecting the family on his own terms.

Lastly, let's talk about Eileen. An unassuming single mother, Eileen is a nurse who plays mah jong with the aunties and insists that Bruce gets a good education. In episode one, we see that Eileen knows her way around the gangster lifestyle as she cuts up the body of an attacker. She is plugged into the community, finding sources for disposing the body and asking about shoe sizes to find the identity of the attacker. She fakes being an innocent maid to ward off a different attacker and pretends to be an unhappy restaurant patron to see into operations and speak with the manager who is the supplier of the Boxers. Eileen has shown time and time again that she is the brains to Big Sun's operations. When Charles sets up a meeting with Sleepy Chan, Eileen is to be present. However, Chan believes having a woman at the center of the historic event is an insult. Eileen accepts that she will not be going and states she is off to make dinner, which is a stereotypical task for a woman. After being kidnapped by The Boxers, it is clear that they want the information only she knows: the identity of the triad leaders. Cool under pressure and demanding of decent tea, Eileen never gives in. Once free, she warns all the triads that they are being targeted, which is the first step in her plan to nominate herself as the new Dragon Head (leader of all the triads). However, her husband tells her she cannot possibly be the Dragon Head and that he is always 3 steps ahead of her. Denied an invitation to the very event she planned, Eileen allows Big Sun to believe she supports Charles being the Dragon Head. She later comes to the meeting to object Charles' nomination and volley for herself to be Dragon Head. Later, Bruce tries to persuade her that she isn't a gang leader and not cut out for this life. Eileen says she deserves this life and that she orchestrated so many of the moves that got them where they are. When Xing comes to kill Bruce, Eileen fights her and shows that she is not just the brains of the Jade Dragons, but she is capable of more. In the end, Eileen chooses, on her own, to return to Taipei and lead the triads in the way she wants, which is to be more legitimate, smarter, and organized.

In Conclusion:

Filled with heart, comedy, and action, The Brothers Sun emphasizes the theme of family. What does it mean to protect the family? Charles and Bruce reconcile their brother relationship and show throughout the series that family means everything, more than cars, more than money, more than baked goods. It is disappointing that Netflix cancelled TBS after just one season. The show was released on January 4th and cancelled on March 1st. After reading several viewers' comments, I agree that Netflix did a poor job advertising The Brothers Sun. It seemed that all their marketing went into the Avatar live-action adaptation which is silly given that ATLA already has a huge pre-existing following. At the time, I also saw they released Max's Warrior on Netflix, along with handful of other shows and movies. Supposedly, TBS failed to reach 7 million weekly viewers, which is the minimum number needed to see if a show is going to make it or not. In the fast paced world of streaming mixed with the excessive amount of new content, it seems that shows don't even stand a chance of reaching 7M weekly views. There's always something new coming out to bump the show out of the Top 10 spot. People don't even get the chance to tell their friends to watch it or even finish watching it themselves. Streaming services are churning out way more content than we are able to consume. Movies barely stay in theaters a month before its available to watch on demand. It seems that if something isn't "successful" in it's first 2 weeks, studios look to recoup its money as quickly as possible, even if that means cancelling a show altogether to avoid costs on another season. We can use Day 1's movie "Elemental" as an example for good things take time. Disney chose to keep Elemental and Wish in theaters for months before putting it on streaming in hopes that people will catch on that it is worth watching. And in Elemental's case, it worked. It is really sad to see TBS join the graveyard of shows that didn't even get a chance to be great (Shadow and Bone, Cowboy Bebop, etc). I really hope another studio picks it up because what a cliffhanger!!

Shout Out!

Today I would like to give a shout out to the many restaurants featured in "The Brothers Sun"! Netflix made a list of all the real-life restaurants from the show for fans to enjoy and support. The show doesn't just highlight Los Angeles, but specifically San Gabriel Valley. Per this very extensive report from 2018, approximately 82,000 businesses in the SVG are Asian-owned. Between 2000 - 2010, the population of SVG increased by 2%, but the Asian population grew 22% in that same time span. Personally, I would love to try Xiaolongkan Hot Pot and Golden Soup next time I'm in the SoCal area! Food was such a huge part of the series and I am happy that Netflix chose to put this guide together.

If You Liked This, You Might Like:

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on Disney +

Warrior on Netflix

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