The Brothers Sun: Sam Li on Asian Representation, Michelle Yeoh & More
Sam Li has a good feeling about his upcoming Netflix series, The Brothers Sun. Not only because it stars international superstar Michelle Yeoh or because he feels passionate about the crime drama, rather American audiences are more ready to see quality Asian stories than ever before. While promoting his film Take the Night, Li spoke with Bleeding Cool about the opportunities afforded Asian artists that weren't there before and how recent projects like 2018 Crazy Rich Asians or 2022's Everything Everywhere All at Once both featured Yeoh, opened up new opportunities.
"It's really interesting actually because I started at a time where it wasn't like that," Li said in terms of opportunities for Asian actors. "I remember wanting to be an actor in 2014-2015, almost ten years ago. I remembered having a conversation with my mom because I was going into college, and I was like, 'I want to spend my college years learning how to act and doing this because this is the passion that I fell in love with in filmmaking. I want to be able to create art and tell stories.' I remember my mom being like, 'Yeah, good luck with that. Literally, tough luck. How many people do you see look like you? You really think you got a shot?' The sad thing was she was right. She was actually really right about it. Then the next year, I told my mom, 'You know, I don't care. I'm going to do it anyway.' The next year, 'Fresh Off the Boat' came out… the very first season came out. I think Ken Jeong also had a show that was coming out at that time, too." The series was ABC's Dr. Ken, which ran from 2015-2017. Jeong was also featured in Fresh Off the Boat in guest appearances during its six-season run, from 2015-2020.
Upon the Nahnatchka Khan-created series success, "I was telling my mom, 'Look, things are changing, and it might be different,'" Li recalled. "So I think I was lucky enough to have gotten to be a part of this as it was changing. That is huge for me because I actually feel like in a lot of ways, it gave me an edge. I got in at a time when there's still a lack of Asian talent out there. Any time I think Hollywood productions try to cast Asian roles and they're looking for serious, talented people. There's still not much of a pool to choose from. I want to encourage more Asian artists, filmmakers, and actors to do this because there actually aren't enough people."
The actor, who's appeared in several shorts, started appearing in TV and film with the miniseries The Offer for Chinese TV, the 2019 TV movie Bit, Saban Films' American Carnage, HBO Max film Women Is Losers (2021), ABC's Home Economics, and AMC's Better Call Saul, he landed his first regular TV role on the Netflix series currently filming, and he couldn't be any happier. "The short answer is 'So much,'" Li said when it came to learning from Yeoh on the set of The Brothers Sun. "I think it's great to work with someone that talented. I think I learned a lot more about ironically off-camera than on-camera because on-camera, I've had my training and know your lines to do the work. Off-camera, it's really incredible to see someone like her and how she carries herself, how she walks into a room… the grace that she has. She's such a queen, and it's incredible. With 'The Brothers Sun', it's giving me 'Crazy Rich Asians' vibes, like [a] game-changer. People are going to talk about this for years, decades to come. It feels historic, and I don't want to hype it up too much. Obviously, I was still developing and in the midst of it, but it is really cool to be a part of that project as well."
Scheduled for release in 2023, The Brothers Sun is set in the world of Taipei gangsters and stems from American Horror Story co-creator Brad Falchuk as well as Byron Wu (The Getaway). Yeoh will play Mama Sun opposite Justin Chien (Two Sides: Unfaithful) as Charles Sun, who's settled into his life as a ruthless killer. When his father is shot by a mysterious assassin, Charles must go to L.A. to protect his mother and utterly unaware younger brother Bruce (Li). The series will also star Highdee Kuan and Joon Lee. Take the Night, which also stars Roy Huang, Brennan Keel Cook, Shomari Love, Antonio Aaron, and Grace Serrano, is currently available in theaters, on-demand, and digital.