There’s a common belief that older women enjoy the goriest fiction. Certainly there’s an invisibility that comes with age; a sense of being the constantly underestimated little old lady. In Lucky Grandma, Sasie Sealy and Angela Cheng unpick those issues, examining ageing and vulnerability with both humour and pathos.
Sealy beautifully realises the worlds within worlds of the immigrant experience. She lovingly peels back the curtain of a culture hidden in plain sight, using real locations from New York’s Chinatown to give the whole weight and grounding. But it’s Tsai Chin’s endlessly watchable performance as the curmudgeonly, chain-smoking Grandma that really brings it home.
Substantial roles for older women – especially Asian women – are rare as hen’s teeth. Chin makes hers a masterclass in restraint and timing. The camera is wisely obsessed with her face, tracking every raised eyebrow and tightened jaw. Her movements are as stolid and decisive as her stubbornness. And when Grandma is forced to employ a young bodyguard, the odd-couple dynamic plays out touchingly with Corey Ha’s Big Pong as they watch soap operas and bicker good-naturedly over the correct recipe for drunken chicken. Even more palpable and credible is the awkwardness in the family scenes, where her son and daughter-in-law try to persuade her to give up her independence and live with them.
Unfortunately, the Red Dragon gangsters that Grandma antagonises struggle to reconcile their strutting ineptitude with genuine menace. Along with a plot that’s occasionally stretched beyond credulity, these make for odd weak points in what is otherwise an extremely watchable and affectionate tribute to time- and trial-toughened matriarchs.
Ultimately, Lucky Grandma is as paradoxical and irrepressible as its main character. It dons the garb of a dark comedy drama over a gangster’s swagger, layering on the complexity deliberately – with mixed, but highly engaging, results.
CAST: Tsai Chin, Corey Ha, Michael Tow, Woody Fu
DIRECTOR: Sasie Sealy
WRITERS: Sasie Sealy, Angela Cheng
SYNOPSIS: An ornery, fiercely independent grandma finds herself in the middle of a Chinatown gang war while chasing the lucky day promised to her by a fortune teller.