In Netflix’s new crime-dramedy family film, The Brothers Sun, Justin Chien and Sam Song Li star as brothers who grew up apart in vastly differing circumstances. Chien’s Charles grew up as the feared son of the head of a Chinese Triad family in Taiwan, while Li’s Bruce grew up as a clueless and naive immigrant son in the United States.
The dynamic between the two are central to the storyline, which means that the casting of the two roles was critical to the success of the series. Thankfully, Chien and Li excel in their respective roles and, along with Academy Award winner and icon Michelle Yeoh, form the core family unit that makes The Brothers Sun such a fantastic series.
I had the opportunity to speak with Chien and Li about their exciting new series and we talked about their unique chemistry, auditioning for their roles and what they learned from working with a legend.
According to Chien, the casting of the sibling duo came down to pairs of actors, with Chien and Li as one set pair, and another pair of currently unknown actors also being given final consideration. Chien said that he knew from their audition together that he and Li were meant for the roles.
“There was a moment during our pairing when I looked in his eyes and I’m like, ‘Yeah, he’s really there with me. I’m talking to Bruce right now.’ I knew I was Charles walking in, but I looked into his eyes and I could tell that he was there and that’s, I think, what set us apart,” Chien said.
Li, whose character Bruce barely recognizes his brother on the show because they hadn’t seen each other in years, talked about how real the audition felt to him.
“I thought he was very scary!” Li said laughing. “Which is perfect because I feel like we kind of have that estranged relationship [in the show]. I’m so glad that I actually didn’t have a chance to meet you any time before, because I really felt like, when I walked into that room with you, that I was meeting you for the first time and sort of experiencing getting to know a distant relative that I never knew before. And so hearing Justin say all these words about Charles and his upbringing and family, to me it was so easy to be there with him and be invested because it all felt so real to me; it all felt so natural.”
As two young, up-and-coming actors, sharing the spotlight with a luminary like Michelle Yeoh has to be both thrilling and intimidating. Fortunately, Yeoh is known to be excessively kind and gracious with her young colleagues.
“First, it was a tremendous honor to be able to share the same space with her. What I learned from her, I learned many things from her, but if I had to pick one, it’s that just by how she carried herself and how mindful and how deliberate she was, it is possible to be a top-notch, industry leading actor and still be a kind and genuine person, and that’s something I definitely aspire to be more like in my own life,” Chien said about working with Yeoh.
Li echoed those sentiments, referencing the effort that Yeoh makes to get to know everyone on set.
“I think it’s just the way she carries herself into a room. She’s so magnetic and so charming in a way that just feels like she wants to know everybody. She’s just so open and responsive to everyone. She has this effect where if you spend 10 minutes with her, you feel like you’ve known her for 10 years,” said Li. “It’s something about the way she interacts with you, approaches you, genuinely wants to get to know you, and I really feel like she didn’t have to do that for any of us. I’ve seen her to do that to not just me, an actor playing her son, but also like our PA’s, people that you wouldn’t think about normally. I thought that was incredible and it really stood out to me and I think that’s something that I’m going to hold for myself as well.”
All eight episodes of The Brothers Sun are streaming on Netflix now!
About The Brothers Sun
When the head of a powerful Taiwanese triad is shot by a mysterious assassin, his eldest son, legendary killer Charles “Chairleg” Sun (Justin Chien) heads to Los Angeles to protect his mother, Eileen (Michelle Yeoh), and his naive younger brother, Bruce (Sam Song Li) — who’s been completely sheltered from the truth of his family until now. But as Taipei’s deadliest societies and a new rising faction go head-to-head for dominance — Charles, Bruce and their mother must heal the wounds caused by their separation and figure out what brotherhood and family truly mean before one of their countless enemies kills them all. Created by: Byron Wu & Brad Falchuk Executive Producers: Brad Falchuk, Byron Wu, Kevin Tancharoen, Mikkel Bondesen Starring: Michelle Yeoh (Eileen “Mama” Sun), Justin Chien (Charles), Sam Song Li (Bruce Sun), Highdee Kuan (Alexis), and Joon Lee (TK) Recurring Cast: Johnny Kou (Big Sun), Alice Hewkin (May/June), Jon Xue Zhang (Blood Boots), Jenny Yang (Xing), Madison Hu (Grace), and Rodney To (Mark)
Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture. He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.