'Brothers Sun' reflected Sam Song Li's real life

Sam Song Li stars in "The Brothers Sun." Photo courtesy of Ziyang Wang
1 of 5 | Sam Song Li stars in "The Brothers Sun." Photo courtesy of Ziyang Wang

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 3 (UPI) -- Sam Song Li said the series, The Brothers Sun, premiering Thursday on Netflix, reflected his real-life experience as an Asian American Californian.

Li plays Bruce, the younger brother of Charles (Justin Chien), who discovers he actually comes from a notorious crime family. Li related to being the child of a single mother, the setting of Arcadia, Calif. and Bruce's career pursuits.


"Bruce and I have so many similarities in so many shocking ways," Li told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "It was really an extension of myself in a lot of ways."

Michelle Yeoh plays Eileen Sun, who has to take over the business after an assassination attempt on her husband, who remains incapacitated while Eileen leads the family.

Bruce is in college, but spends his tuition money on improv classes instead. Li studied film and acting at University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 2019, but knew his mother also had other ambitions for him. He was raised by a single mother, Amy, in Arcadia and Rosemead, Calif..


"My mom's an aerospace engineer," Li said. "She's a literal rocket scientist, so I think she had really high hopes for me to follow in her footsteps and do something just as prestigious.

"Instead, she got an actor," Li joked. "All jokes aside, I think she's very proud of me now."

Li makes comedy videos on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. He also took improv classes at Upright Citizens Brigade and The Groundlings.

The Brothers Sun features a scene of Bruce performing with The Groundlings. Li said he got to improvise with actual Groundlings performers in that scene.

"There was a version of it in the script and it's not the version that we filmed," Li said. "They crushed it -- and it was an everyday show to them."

Li also gets to show his dramatic range in The Brothers Sun. Bruce finds himself in the fray when assassins come after Charles, and he watches Charles violently dispatch them with martial arts.

The stunt team intentionally left Li out of their choreography, he said. Where Chien and the fighters had specific sequences of moves, Li only learned basic blocking to make sure Bruce was on his marks when the fights occurred around him.


"They really wanted me to avoid knowing too much," Li said of the stunt choreographers. "I think they knew it was just way better if I didn't know what the hell was going on."

Witnessing violence and learning his family secrets is traumatic for Bruce. Li said conveying those emotions on a long filming day was a new challenge for him.

"It was pretty exhausting," Li said. "It's not like real life where you just have a moment, you might be frustrated or heartbroken for 10 minutes. On a film set, you have to do it for eight hours."

Li said he also relates to the Suns' Asian American experience, though the details are different. The Suns are Taiwanese and Li was born in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China.

But, Li said, he spent his childhood in California. He also speaks Mandarin fluently, while Bruce misunderstands Mandarin for comic effect.

"The show is a love letter to the Asian American experience," Li said. "The themes of the show, which is the value of family and the mannerisms of respect, really bled into the culture of our workplace, as well."


The Brothers Sun wrapped before Yeoh won the Oscar for Everything Everywhere All At Once. Li said the cast reunited to watch the Oscars in March and cheered when she won.

"We got together to watch it and the energy was insane," Li said. "We were all very excited. We were like, 'We know her! We've worked with her!'"

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