There’s something universal about a grumpy old grandma. That particular woman of a certain age, who has no time for other people’s silliness, lives a fiercely independent life, and never asks anyone else for anything. In many ways, Lucky Grandma is a homage to those magical women everywhere. If we didn’t have one ourselves, then usually we knew someone who did, and can easily relate to them.
In this case the fortunate octogenarian matriarch hero is the unnamed Grandma, played by Tsai Chin. Being not only rather old, crotchety and only moderately solvent, her son wants her to move permanently into his family home. Faced with this possibility, and spurred on by a favourable zodiac reading, Grandma hits the casino to pay her keep. While she doesn’t win big, she happens by a huge bag of Triad cash, and becomes the target of a rival crime gang. This leads to an inevitable escalation of events, leading her round the dodgier parts of Manhattan’s Chinatown.
Lucky Grandma is a delightfully fun film. Doubly so considering that co-creators Sasie Sealy and Angela Cheng put this film together on a modest million-dollar budget. It’s also a wonderful insight into a side of life rarely told in western cinema; delving deep into the day to day lives of the residents of New York’s Chinese population. Centring the film around Grandma also lends a uniqueness to the experience. Having the protagonist be a woman of a certain age throws up a whole plethora of possibilities as well as problems for the story.
Tsai Chin is excellent throughout as the chain-smoking, grumbling elderly woman. Caustic to a fault and roughly kind with her family, she still forms a sweetly friendly attachment to her hastily-hired Triad bodyguard, Bad Pong (Hsaio-Yuan Ha). While at the same time, never giving an inch to the rival gangsters trying to steal her ill-gotten cash.
If the film has a flaw it’s that the budget’s seams begin to show during a few action scenes. It’s a minor quibble, but considering how well everything else in the film comes together they stick out all the more. That said, it’s easily assuaged by the brilliant performances and genuinely funny script which manages to weave a multitude of sly references to Chinese culture and beliefs. In these times of strife and calamity, it’s nice to be reminded of the real value of family, community and most of all, grandmothers.
Available on Digital HD from Mon 9 Nov 2020