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Review: Michelle Yeoh Raises Netflix’s ‘The Brothers Sun’

“The Brothers Sun,” premiering Thursday on Netflix, is a mishmash of martial arts family dramedy, 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 handsome, fit Charles Sun (Justin Chien) is baking a cake while «The Great British Baking Show» plays on his big screen. A team of masked assassins burst in. He sends them away with a furious fist, but at the cost of burning his cake. Obviously, there’s more to Charles than just combining dry and wet ingredients, but the theme will be food – a modern filmmaker’s shorthand for adding dimension to genre characters.

Enter Charles’ father, Big Sun (Johnny Kou), apparently some big-time gangster—he’s the head of the Jade Dragons triad—who was brought out of hiding. Charles, something of a grim hothead when he’s not patiently waiting for the dough to rise, suspects rival Sleepy Chan or his son Drowsy Lee of being behind the attack, even though the first 10 minutes of the eight-hour story point in the wrong direction. Big Sun has barely warned Charles not to jump to conclusions when a bullet crashes through the window and Big Sun collapses, saying Charles’ mother’s name.

In Los Angeles, Bruce Sun (Sam Song Li), removed from Taipei as a child, drives for Lyft—two women throw up in his car to indicate how it’s going—and lives with his (and Charles’) mother, «Mama » Eileen (Yeoh), in the San Gabriel Valley, the center of Chinese and Taiwanese life. (There are many community specifics.) His secret ambition, a career in improv, is hinted at by his «Yes and» keychain, but he’s studying to go to medical school to please Eileen. He’s an amiable fool living in ignorance of the family business.

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And then his brother on a mission to «protect the family» – a mantra that will be repeated with tiresome regularity over the next few hours until one asks «Says who?» what for?» – it will show. Charles has barely ventured into his mother’s kitchen when another masked assassin arrives; he declares, «Getting rid of evil must be thorough» before becoming a severed head in a bag. Eileen enters, greeting the son she hasn’t seen in years and regretting the mess and his beard. «I brought the pastry,» says Charles.

Bruce comes across his mother cutting up the body for easy transport and learns something of the bigger picture.

«My whole life is a lie,» he wails.

«Not your whole life,» his mother said gently. Yeoh will get a lot of humor from this «Nothing to worry about, now study your test stance» throughout the show. («It’s 8% of the class» is kind of a running joke. Sort of.)

Also in the mix is ​​Bruce’s numb, video game playing, drug dealing, gangster wannabe Korean boyfriend TK (Joon Lee); family friend and protector Blood Boots (Jon Xue Zhang), who lights up the screen; his stubborn partner Xing (Jenny Yang), who draws light from him; Grace (Madison Hu), who improbably chats with Bruce in class; June (Alice Hewkin), a tater tot with an agenda; Alexis (Highdee Kwan), an ambitious deputy DA («not a cop,» she insists, but actually a cop) who knows Charles from the old neighborhood when his nickname was «Little Fatty»; and the Asian water minotaur.

Although Bruce is fundamentally a comedy with a surprising, if fake, tendency towards non-violent conflict resolution and some reflections on what constitutes masculinity – Bruce is repeatedly described as «soft» – the series can be very brutal and ugly when it comes to torture or torture . gratuitous beatings or sharp objects penetrating the bodies. (Charles’ obsession with churros and his attempts to perfect the recipe—a relatable human drama—I found more compelling.) The fight scenes, which run at Mack Sennett speed, can be hard to watch, though at least some are shot in long takes. , rather than relying on editing for excitement and thus reading balletically.

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The leather is almost worn out from my pounding on this drum, but eight hours is more than most series—unless they’re essentially episodic like «Poker Face» or extremely well-written—can support. The material is strained and/or overloaded with subplots and extraneous matters.

Brad Falchuck and Byron Wu’s «The Brothers Sun» is basically a B-picture — not a criticism by any means — that could do the job in half the time. It doesn’t help that the story’s central mystery is more or less obvious from the start with that subtle tagline, while characters we’re supposed to be smart about go looking for enemies in the wrong places.

The characters’ ostensible motivations and goals also change with a regularity that’s meant, I suppose, to keep the viewer guessing as to what’s coming next, but which feels almost arbitrary as the series sets up its exit strategy. Yeoh (quietly commanding), Li (funny, charming) and Chien (old-school stoic) are good company when they’re around, and the individual scenes, taken on their own, work nicely – Yeoh is late for a meeting with his mother. in a series that has no tonal or substantive relationship to the rest of the series, but is such delicious acting that you’re just glad it’s there. (And I’m sorry there isn’t more.)

But the main narrative, which unlike the stunt work requires some strained suspension of disbelief, runs out of gas long before the finish line. In the end, you’re just waiting for the end. Baked too long, the cake will burn, tension turned to boredom.

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