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Lucky Grandma

Peter Malone MSC  |  21 October 2020

LUCKY GRANDMA, US, 2019. Starring Tsai Chin, Hsiao-Yuan Ha, Michael Tow, Woody Fu, Mason Yam. Directed by Sasie Sealy. 87 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence and coarse language)

How lucky is lucky? And, who is Grandma?

This is a Chinese story, a story in the Chinese community in New York City, quite a vivid portrayal of the neighbourhood, the families, speaking Mandarin and Cantonese (but many of the next-generation becoming more Americanised), the range of customs, food, and the domination of local protection gangs. Quite a context.

Grandma is 80. However, this review needs to offer some praise for the actress who plays Grandma, Tsai Chin, from a classic Chinese acting family, training in London, entering her film career with the voice of Tokyo Rose in The Bridge on the River Kwai, making several Fu Manchu thrillers with Christopher Lee, twice a Bond Girl, and a career of more than 60 years in film and television in England and the United States including The Joy Luck Club! And, her age at the time of portraying Grandma, a vigorous 85.

During the opening credits, Grandma goes to a fortuneteller with her various signs, cards, symbols – and the judgment that 28 October will be a very lucky day for journalling. Of course, it is and it isn’t. Her family want to move out of her apartment and live with them but she wants independence and withdraws all her money from the bank and goes on a bus expedition to a casino. She presumes on her luck and bets on the number eight, the lucky number, and plays all the games, winning until….

Tsai Chin plays Grandma as a tough cookie (perhaps an understated description for this cantankerous, determined old lady or, rather, old girl). And much is made of her characteristics symbol – the perennial cigarette, defiantly lit, inhaled, dangling from her lips. She makes quite an impression – and you might not like to encounter her in a dark alley on a dark night!

Actually, on the bus home, her luck changes but you will need to see the movie to find out how this could be.

Gangsters threaten Grandma and she goes to one of the local gangs to bargain for a bodyguard for a week, $5000 but cut rate to $2000 for the tall big softy she gets, Big Pong, Hsiao Yuan Ha, affable but often enough earning his fee! The local thugs are rather leering and presumptuous about dominating Grandma. Which means that there are some tough sequences, some funny sequences, some slapstick.

One presumes that there is an eager Chinese audience all around the world who will enjoy encountering Grandma – even though they might avoid her in real life! And, for wider audiences who might enjoy something different, they might be in luck in going to see Lucky Grandma.

Vendetta Films
Released 22 October
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of Jesuits Media.


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