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Lucky Grandma

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Released 2019. Director: Sasie Sealy

80-YEAR-OLD GRANDMA WONG LIVES ALONE in a humble little apartment in New York’s Chinatown. Lest anyone dismisses this old lady, it should be noted that she is fiercely independent, critical and fearless as well as an unapologetic chain smoker. And that’s before you find out what she’s really capable of.

A fortune-teller informs Grandma her luck is about to hit the jackpot on 28th October when “the carps leap over dragon’s gate”. Armed with certainty, Grandma goes to the casino and elbows her way among the high-rollers. True to the prediction, she wins every round (lucky number: 8). As her towers of chips grow higher, Grandma feels emboldened to risk it all against her better judgement. That’s when the carps stop leaping and all the thousands she’s just won vanish before her eyes.

But the universe still has a bit of luck left to dispense the dejected Grandma. On her bus journey home, the man next to her dies quietly of a heart attack and Grandma conveniently grabs his bag stashed with cash. No good ever comes from ill-begotten fortune and Grandma soon finds herself caught between two rival gangs over the bag of dirty money.

What makes Lucky Grandma stand out is to see a female octogenarian in a lead role. Also unusual is a movie about a Chinese old lady in the crime genre. Lucky Grandma is a charming drama effortlessly shifting between action and comic moments. The character-driven approach is the engine that sustains the movie, relying heavily on personality and not far-fetched set-ups for effect.

A veteran actress of stage and screen, Tsai Chin is fast approaching her 90th birthday. Best remembered as the acerbic Auntie Lindo in The Joy Luck Club, Tsai Chin has also appeared in two James Bond movies: You Only Live Twice and Casino Royale, among dozens of roles that date back to the 1950s. As Grandma Wong, Tsai Chin seizes this rare opportunity and carries the movie as the crotchety heroine who tries to outsmart the thugs at every turn.

Grandma Wong lives life on her own terms. She makes the rules and never backs down from any situation. The wily and unsmiling widow would rather live alone in her meagre apartment than move in with her son and adoring grandchildren in their brownstone. Judging by the way she hires a bodyguard, she’s also quick-thinking and her instinct in bargaining is delightfully sharp as a meat cleaver. She may be fragile but when her bedroom is being ransacked by intruders, she doesn’t run. Instead, she grabs a wok and sneaks up to land a blow.

The colourful supporting cast has less attitude but no less an entertaining bunch, from the comically menacing gangsters to Grandma’s bodyguard, Big Pong, a giant of a man who’s really just a regular chap who can’t wait to return to his village to marry his sweetheart.

The presence of Big Pong brings out a sliver of Grandma Wong’s warmth slipping through her crusty exterior. Allowing the gentle Hercules to share her dinner table is an endearing moment which says more about Grandma’s disposition to mother rather than be mothered, as when she just about rolls her eyes at her family fussing over her birthday.

Director Sasie Sealy doesn’t spare these characters easily simply because there’s a kernel of family values and sympathy at the movie’s core. Grandma lands (with no one to blame but herself) in very real life-threatening situations. Physical intimidation, home invasion, strangulation, gun shots, injury and death, her grandson abducted, all because she thought she could outfox some nasty people she shouldn’t have provoked.

Grandma Wong may not be a role model for the young but she’s a symbol of the tough, ballsy and never-say-die elderly women so often invisible in the flurry and bustle in the streets and alleys of every Chinatown. A spotlight on the crazy determination to take a chance, not just slide into the twilight but blow smoke in the face of old age.

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2 commentaires

20 août 2023

Loved this unusual movie and it was great to see a "little old lady" dealing with the "bad guys". Well worth a watch.


22 juil. 2023

Sounds interesting and very watchable. Will check it out.

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