I don’t want to leap to hyperbole in the first week of the year, but I am quite confident in saying that The Brothers Sun has the best fight scene with men in inflatable dinosaur costumes that I’ve seen in 2024. Sure, it’s the only one I’ve seen in this or any year, and I doubt there will be another anytime soon. But that doesn’t diminish how much it kicks ass. It’s simply great to start the year with a show that capably gives me something I’ve been lacking in television for some time: a series that is just as interested in good goofs as it is killer brawls.
Created by Byron Wu and Brad Falchuk (co-creator of many shows in the Ryan Murphy empire, from American Horror Story to Glee), the new Netflix martial arts dramedy — there’s something you don’t get to say every day! — introduces viewers to Bruce Sun (Sam Song Li), a regular-ass nerd living in LA. A bit of a pushover, Bruce loves improv comedy more than anything, so much so that he’ll spend college tuition money on comedy classes and let himself get talked into selling drugs by his best friend — which would be a problem for him, if he were any good at it.
Bruce doesn’t know this, but he’s also Triad royalty. His father, Big Sun (Johnny Kou), leads one of the most respected gangs in Taipei, and someone’s targeting them all. This is how Bruce finally reunites with his long-lost older brother, Charles (Justin Chien), who flies in from Taiwan to protect Bruce and their mother, Eileen (Michelle Yeoh), after an assassination attempt on their father.
The Brothers Sun kicks off with such a heavy setup and brutal opening fight scene that it’s easy to think it’s more of a serious crime drama than it actually is. Sure, all that is there, and quite satisfying. But it’s all in the service of a family dramedy, as Eileen insists that Bruce adhere to the normal life she brought him to LA to have, even as he gets drawn further and further into a simmering, over-the-top gang war where he regularly has to ditch masked martial arts masters.
However, what makes The Brothers Sun really sing is that its comedy isn’t limited to Bruce Sun’s hapless antics in the face of his mother’s and brother’s hyper-competence; the show’s writers and choreographers work hard to spread the laughs around. Charles isn’t just the badass older brother — his savvy is undercut by the assumption that knowing the Chinese half of Chinese American culture is enough to get by. This cause him to regularly blunder and get taken advantage of (being tricked into delivering a giant lizard) or embarrass himself (with his low spice tolerance).
The fights in The Brothers Sun are also full of wit. The aforementioned dino-suit fight culminates in a killer Jurassic Park sight gag, and an entire fight in the Sun family home revolves around Charles repeatedly attempting to kick off his opponent’s shoes in his mother’s house.
There’s a lot to love about The Brothers Sun — the way it delights in cross-cultural specificity, luxuriating in lavish shots of mahjong games, churros frying, and improv shows in equal measure; how well it builds its genre thrills around a family story; how propulsively plotted its eight episodes are. If there are any issues to be found, they’re in how slight it all feels. In a complaint that’s rare for a Netflix drama, the show simply keeps moving too fast for anyone to feel quite real, yet its characters are portrayed with just enough grounding to not veer into cartoonish caricature. Stop and think about it, and the series fits too snugly in the liminal space between what you were watching last and what you will watch next, a very fun binge that doesn’t quite linger.
Not the hitmen in dinosaur suits, though. They linger just fine.
The Brothers Sun is now streaming on Netflix.