Lucky Grandma

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Lucky Grandma
"Grandma is neither sweet nor innocent: a hard smoking, confrontational battleaxe with, nonetheless a heart of gold." | Photo: Lyle Vincent

Three cheers for Lucky Grandma . Even if, as it turns out, she is not quite as lucky as she thought. Still, it is good to see a film that celebrates the contrary and cantankerous older woman and this one delivers on the contrariety and cantankerousness in spades. Or maybe eights, her lucky number, from which follows the rest.

Grandma (Tsai Chin) has not had an easy life. Her husband has passed on, leaving her nothing. Her well-meaning son would like to look after her, but such care comes at a price: her independence!

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Still, her favourite fortune teller informs her that she is about to experience great good fortune, so she withdraws all her savings and heads off on a bus, with other hopeful oldsters, to her local casino. At first all goes well. Betting on eight throughout, she multiplies her initial stake many times over. But then disaster strikes and she seemingly departs with nothing.

Except, her bus companion – the stranger sat on the seat next to her – is accountant for one of the crime gangs of New York's Chinatown. In a holdall on his lap, is a small fortune in cash, and when he suddenly, unexpectedly has a heart attack, Grandma decides to help herself. Suddenly, she is rich. Lucky her!

This, though, is where the film begins in earnest, as a procession of heavies representing different factions from local gangs work out where the money went, and turn up to demand its return. Grandma, though, is stubborn and, instead of folding, she hires protection in the form of a large and amiable gang member, Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha). The simple task of extracting money from a defenceless old lady suddenly got harder.

Lucky Grandma is a slight film. It has a few things to say about age and what happens when you are left behind. For the most part, though, sit back, break out the popcorn and enjoy the ride as it alternates between the wit and humour in how Grandma bludgeons her way through life and the occasional bittersweet reflection on what brought her to this pass.

The Ladykillers it is not, in the sense that that film played very much on the trope of the sweet and innocent dotty older English women. Whereas Grandma is neither sweet nor innocent: a hard smoking, confrontational battleaxe with, nonetheless a heart of gold – and not afraid to take on the mob if that becomes necessary.

Most of the focus here, apart from the action scenes, is on the relationship between her and Big Pong, whom she adopts as honorary grandson for the duration. Also, an interesting couple of scenes as she gets to meet Sister Fong (Yan Xi), leader of the Red Dragon and whose money Grandma has half-inched!

It ends not quite as upbeat as you might hope, but it is realistic in its ambitions and even as her life choices change and narrow, there remains to Lucky Grandma a wicked smile and a hint of defiance in her eye. Would that I, her age but not yet a grandmother, could face life with equal boldness.

A thumbs up to director and co-writer Sasie Sealy for this engaging effort.

Reviewed on: 08 Nov 2020
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Set in New York City’s Chinatown, the film follows an ornery, chain-smoking Chinese grandma who goes all in at the casino, landing herself on the wrong side of luck… and in the middle of a gang war.

Director: Sasie Sealy

Writer: Angela Cheng

Starring: Tsai Chin, Corey Ha, Michael Tow, Woody Fu, Wai Ching Ho, Clem Cheung

Year: 2019

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US


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