Widowed Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) doesn’t seem so lucky when she gambles away her entire savings.
But her fortunes appear to change when, on the bus home, the man sat beside her suddenly expires and she absconds with his bag stuffed with US dollar bills.
However, the money belongs to New York’s Chinese mob and she now finds herself at the centre of a gang war. Still, never underestimate an unflappable pensioner.
First-time writer-director Sasie Sealy’s spiky US indie explores Chinatown’s Mahjong parlours and steam rooms with an authenticity American movies often lack.
Veteran actress Tsai Chin (The Joy Luck Club) has a blast as our wily, chain-smoking, Mandarin-speaking heroine, who forms a terrific odd-couple partnership with affable giant bodyguard Big Pong (Hsiao-yuan Ha).
Tsai Chin totally owns the character of Grandma Wong… Whether it’s her laid pack demeanour or portraying a quirky virtue, she switches both styles effortlessly.
The most empowering point about the character is that we never once sympathise with her… Most certainly not her actions.
Despite her old age, we never feel that she is a pitiable vulnerable lady.
That independence and mental strength remain strong. In a way, it is quite an optimistic lesson that age is nothing but a number.
It does not determine a person’s true capabilities.
Interestingly, the gangsters are not the actual villains here, neither is the grandmother. The real culprit is her loneliness and boredom which determines her actions.
Somehow, this criminal mishap forms a sense of virtual reality… Almost like reckless escapism. This concept, overall, is a winner
Lucky Grandma fuses the Chinese American cultures effortlessly. It does not shy away from reality and vouches to give a voice to the community.
With scenes like the grandchild shooting a dance YouTube video with his American friend.
By adapting the same lingo and speech style as a USA citizen shows how well the community has integrated into the American lifestyle.
Speaking of culture, several Chinese-American films depict the main gang leaders as martial exponents with a majestic samurai streak to them.
Thankfully, this isn’t the case here. We do not witness stock oriental characters at all and every character – especially the goons – seem incredibly ordinary, which is what works effectively.
Plus, the main action sequences take place in every day looking locations of Chinatown. In a way, the city becomes instrumental to all the events occurring in the movie.
Black comedies generally are challenging genres to master. Such films require a neat balance in maintaining the murky tones with humour.
However, director Sasie Sealy maintains the right tone… In a sense, the film never becomes overtly comical, nor is it morbidly dark.
As such, tension is well built during confrontational sequences.
For instance, a wide-shot showing the grandma hiding in one room and then two gangsters searching for the money in another adds to the suspense of what will happen next.
Whilst the film is packed with positive attributes, the second-half seems to drag.
The slow pace makes the movie seem longer than it’s actual duration and that acts as a speed breaker.
Generally, Lucky Grandma is an impressive and entertaining watch.
The funny but intriguing concept, a refreshing representation of Chinese community amidst a realistic American setting make this a winner.
May we continue to see more such work!
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4/5 stars)