Lucky Grandma is a brilliant comedy-thriller, with Tsai Chin playing the eponymous grandma. Chin is an accomplished actress with work across three continents, and in this movie she plays the role perfectly, with her expressions throughout the movie being nothing other than what you would expect from an old, tired Chinese grandmother – a tough, unreadable scowl, that only shows the emotions that we as the audience want her to feel.
The movie starts off with Grandma Wong visiting a fortune teller, who gives her the prediction that the upcoming date of 28th October will be extremely lucky for her, and that her long-awaited reward from an unfair life would be delivered to her on that day. Grandma Wong has had a grim life so far, with her husband having died and left her nothing, and her life being spent in a cramped old apartment in Chinatown. She also does not want to move in with her son and his family, and so she takes off to Atlantic City on a bus. That is when her luck starts to change for the better, as Grandma Wong starts winning, and keeps on winning, whether it be at the roulette tables or in an exciting blackjack card game. By the end of the night, having won thousands of dollars, she sits down for one last game of poker, and ends up losing it all. But then, heading back home on the bus with a completely empty purse, luck shines on her once again, as she sees that the old man sitting beside her has passed away in his sleep. There is a sudden jolt caused to the bus, and the man’s bag, full of cash, lands in grandma’s lap.
The old man, who had a snake tattooed on his neck, was a local gang member, and soon enough, two members of that gang show up at grandma’s house asking about him and the money. When they do not stop bothering her, she ends up going to the rival Zhongliang gang to ask for protection, and ends up with a bodyguard, of sorts – the huge Big Pong, whose only passion in life seems to be the healthcare app he is determined to launch when he returns to China.
As you may have determined by now, Lucky Grandma is a movie which cannot be put into a single genre. Is it a comedy? A thriller? A heartwarming drama about an eccentric old grandma? A gangster flick? Lucky Grandma manages to incorporate elements of all of these into itself, and it is able to balance them all extremely well. The fight sequences are especially well done, as the director Sasie Sealy is able to mix humour and danger into those scenes with equal measure. Thus, the audience is laughing along during a fight scene, only for someone to have their brains bashed out. The director’s control of the tone and pace of the movie is impressive, and is a throwback to the ‘80s and ‘90s, where there were many such deadpan indie comedies, where a lot of silliness was tolerated because the rest of the world and the narrative felt so genuine and fascinating. Thus, the Chinatown portrayed in Sealy’s movie is both authentic and intriguing, and this is something that carries on throughout the movie.
Tsai Chin is the undoubted star of the show, as she pulls off the endearing little grandma act absolutely perfectly. She can seem like a scheming old woman to the bad guys, and an old, fragile woman in need of help to the good guys, and thus manages to get her work done no matter who ends up helping her. This ability of hers to not showcase her true emotions and feelings is one of the best parts of her character, and Lucky Grandma is a must-watch for Chin’s performance alone.