Friday, January 5, 2024

REVIEW: 'The Brothers Sun' - Each Member of the Sun Family Must Decide Who They Are Willing to Protect in 'Protect the Family'

Netflix's The Brothers Sun - Episode 1.08 "Protect the Family"

The Suns' lives and legacy hang in the balance as old wounds and hard truths come to light. Bruce makes a choice that could change the family forever.

"Protect the Family" was written by Brad Falchuk & Byron Wu and directed by Kevin Tancharoen

Unsurprisingly, Michelle Yeoh stole the entire show. The Oscar winner elevated the material to properly convey the emotional heft of a complicated personal arc that evolved over the course of the season. Of course, the titular characters also had that dynamic contoured across eight episodes. The bond they developed and the internal turmoil they faced was less successful. It still worked overall. However, moments of the season felt like they were straining until Charles could get involved in an elaborate action sequence. That physicality was marvelous to watch. It was also a tedious mess where it was clear Charles was battling hoards of anonymous soldiers. The battles often didn't have much stakes to them. That ultimately made them less compelling as a whole. Yeoh has a long established career as an action star too. As such, it's notable when she finally gets into her own fight in the finale. That moment actually works because it's unexpected given how Mama Sun typically conducts business. It's also against someone who was previously aligned with her. Xing's death had weight just like Blood Boots' did earlier in the season.

Mama Sun sacrificed her life for Bruce to have freedom. He still needed to abide by the life she envisioned for him. She wasn't initially accepting of his improv aspirations. The narrative itself outgrew that rather quickly. Sure, he proved he was capable in that field. He wasn't frequently tasked with using those skills though. The improvisations needed were much more deadly because he never grew up in this world of violence. He was shielded from it. His mother could only do that for so long. He needed to make his own decisions. That included sharing the rolodex with Grace. Now, the severity of that particular threat started off strong and quickly ran out of steam. That was true before Grace's true motives were revealed. The antagonist to the Sun family couldn't remain anonymous. The mystery of the unknown was exciting at first. That's how the story lures the viewer in. The reveal needs to live up to that hype. Instead, Big Sun makes a miraculous recovery so he can become the central villain for the final two episodes. Even then, he has to share the focus alongside Grace and the Boxers as well as Alexis and the police. That's a lot to handle without much complexity.

The moment in which Big Sun seemingly wakes up from his coma is the biggest melodramatic twist of the season. However, it also highlighted the variation in tone within the storytelling. At times, it wanted to be big and fantastical. That was true with that particular moment as well as it when June was revealed as May's twin sister. That's in contrast to the more earnest shifts in the mysteries like Blood Boots' death or Big Sun staging the assassination attempt to turn Charles into a killer. At least those moments occur in an instant. Elsewhere, it was clear that something more was going on with Grace before she ultimately revealed her true nature as the head of the Boxers. At that point, it was obvious someone the audience already knew had to be calling the shots. It was effective when Mama Sun was revealed as the true power player. The information she carried made her formidable because of the secrets she could expose. And then, that importance was weakened by sharing it all with Bruce. At times, the characters were meant to be seen as smart. However, they were often destined to act irrationally because of their sense of honor to ancient traditions.

The mantra of "protect the family" was declared so often that it lost all meaning. It could not just be simple words. They needed weight behind them. That bond ultimately developed between Charles and Bruce. However, the pressure they faced simply by being the sons of Big Sun wasn't genuine because of how little personal intrigue he showed. He walked into their lives expecting to be beloved. Instead, he ordered them around and expected loyalty to his every request. Once more, it was personally devastating when Mama Sun felt betrayed by her husband's inaction. She sacrificed her freedom and desire under the belief that he would honor their agreement. Instead, he failed to let her know her sister was dying. Mama Sun's return to Taiwan was ultimately the most moving and dynamic story of the entire season. As such, the future is full of promise given that's where she jets off to with Charles by her side offering protection. Moreover, Mama Sun looking out the taxi window at Taipei for the first time in decades was much more mesmerizing than any elaborate fight sequence. That moment proved the power and command of Yeoh's performance. She had much more devastating material later on in the same episode. But that look of amazement and wonder conveyed all that this journey has meant to her.

The viewer saw that understanding of character. That was then in conflict with Mama Sun's children often pushing for what they wanted instead. Bruce believes he knows his mother because he has lived with her for many years. He's capable of surprising people. He shoots his father. That ensures his capture. As a result, the entire Chinese Triad is either dead or imprisoned. This family made that happen. They have the potential to grab ahold of even more power. Mama Sun professes that she seeks to make things better. More work still needs to be done. Bruce doesn't see her as corrupt like the other criminals in this world. He had to grow immediately comfortable with how many people his brother has killed. It results in Charles and Bruce hugging because they support and protect each other. That's what the mantra now means to them. This is their family. It's not the pressure imposed on them by their father. It's the brothers fighting to preserve what actually makes them unique. Their mother is a crucial figure as well. They don't want her to get caught up in this drama. Yet that's precisely where she wants to be. She yearns for that power and control. The suffering her husband endures in the hospital isn't good enough. She inflicts more. That delights her. She's the star. Everyone else resides in the background. That's apparent. It just comes at the cost of any of the other characters ultimately presenting with much of a nuanced personality whatsoever.