Review: Michelle Yeoh elevates ‘The Brothers Sun’ on Netflix

“The Brothers Sun,” premiering Thursday on Netflix, is a hodgepodge of martial arts family drama, elevated by the presence and performance of Michelle Yeoh. And you can quote me.

We begin in Taipei, Taiwan, in a glass-walled apartment in a modern skyscraper, where the handsome and fit Charles Sun (Justin Chien) bakes a cake while streaming “The Great British Baking Show” on his big-screen TV. A team of masked assassins breaks in. He eliminates them with furious ease, but at the cost of burning his cake. Obviously there’s more to Charles than combining dry and wet ingredients, but food, the modern filmmaker’s shortcut for adding dimension to genre characters, will be a motif throughout.

Enter Charles’s father, Big Sun (Johnny Kou), clearly some kind of big gangster (he’s the head of the Jade Dragon Triad) who has come out of hiding. Charles, somewhat elated when he doesn’t wait patiently for the dough to rise, suspects that his rival Sleepy Chan or his son Drowsy Lee are behind the attack, although whichever direction he points a finger in the first 10 minutes of an eight- The Story of an hour will point in the wrong direction. Big Sun has barely warned Charles not to jump to conclusions when a bullet goes through the window and Big Sun, collapsing, calls out Charles’ mother’s name.

In Los Angeles, Bruce Sun (Sam Song Li), who was expelled from Taipei as a child, drives for Lyft (two women vomit in his car, to indicate how he’s doing) and lives with his (and Charles’) son. mother, “Mama” Eileen (Yeoh), in the San Gabriel Valley, a center of Chinese and Taiwanese life. (There’s a lot of communal specificity.) Her secret ambition, a career in improv, is indicated by her “Yes and” keychain, but she’s studying to go to medical school to please Eileen. He is a kind fool who lives ignorant of the family business.

And then his brother, with the mission of “protecting the family,” a mantra that will be repeated with exhausting regularity for the next few hours, until one wonders, “Who says?” and for what?” – appears. Charles has barely entered his mother’s kitchen when another masked killer arrives; he will declare: “The elimination of evil must be total” before turning into a severed head in a bag. Eileen enters, He greets the son he hasn’t seen for years and deplores the mess and his beard. “I brought cakes,” says Charles.

Bruce will meet his mother cutting up the body for easier transport and learn something of the bigger picture.

“My whole life is a lie,” he laments.

“Not your whole life,” his mother says tenderly. Yeoh will get a lot of humor from this “Nothing to worry about, now study your test attitude” throughout the show. (“It’s 8% of the grade” is kind of a running joke. Sort of.)

Also in the mix are TK (Lee Joon), Bruce’s dim-witted Korean friend, video game player, drug dealer, and wannabe gangster; family friend and protector Blood Boots (Jon Xue Zhang), who lights up the screen; his stern partner Xing (Jenny Yang), who draws light from it; Grace (Madison Hu), who improbably chats with Bruce in class; June (Alice Hewkin), a tattoo artist with an agenda; Alexis (Highdee Kwan), an ambitious district attorney (“she’s not a cop,” she insists, but, really, she is a cop), who knows Charles from the old neighborhood, when her nickname was “Little Fatty”; and an Asian aquatic minotaur.

Although fundamentally a comedy, with a surprising, if false, tone for nonviolent conflict resolution and some reflections on what constitutes manhood (Bruce is repeatedly described as “soft”), the series can be quite brutal and unpleasant when it comes to torture or gratuitous beatings or sharp objects stuck in bodies. (I found Charles’s obsession with churros and his attempts to perfect a recipe, a relatable human drama, more compelling.) The fight scenes, which move at Mack Sennett speed, can be difficult to follow, although some at least are filmed in long takes. , rather than relying on editing to generate emotion, thus reading like a ballet.

The skin is almost worn out from beating this drum, but eight hours is more television than most series, unless they have an essentially episodic structure, like “Poker Face,” or are extremely well written, can handle. The material is stretched and/or overloaded with subplots and superfluous matters.

Created by Brad Falchuck and Byron Wu, “The Brothers Sun” is basically a B-movie (by no means a review) that could be done in half the time. It doesn’t help that the central mystery of the story is made more or less obvious from the beginning with that unsubtle tagline, while the characters we should consider intelligent go looking for enemies in the wrong places.

The characters’ apparent motivations and goals also change with a regularity that, I suppose, is intended to keep the viewer guessing what will come next, but which comes to seem almost arbitrary, as the series establishes its exit strategy. Yeoh (quietly authoritative), Li (comical, charming), and Chien (old-school stoic) are all good company when they’re around, and the individual scenes, taken on their own, work very well: Yeoh has a late meeting with his mother. in the series that has no tonal or substantial relationship to the rest of the series, but it’s such a delicate performance that you’re glad it’s there. (And sorry, there is no more).

But the main narrative, which unlike stunt work requires a grueling suspension of disbelief, runs out of gas long before the finish line. In the end, you’re just waiting for the end. If baked too long, the cake will burn and the suspense will turn to tedium.

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