Chinese legend Tsai Chin will be a familiar face to many, with six decades of success including two Bond films, 90s hit The Joy Luck Club, and a recurring role on the series Gray’s Anatomy. Those unfamiliar with her talents will certainly remember the name after seeing her as the grouchy lead in this striking dark comedy.
She plays Grandma Wong, an elderly Chinese woman living in New York’s Chinatown. Resentful of her declining health and at risk of losing her independence, she hops on a bus to the local casino where, she hits a winning streak.
Chasing the buzz, her luck runs cold and she leaves penniless. On the bus home, she happens to sit next to a mob accountant, who drops dead, leaving her with a bag full of money. Making off with the cash, she finds herself with a bunch of criminals on her tail.
Writer-director Sasie Sealy brings class to this simple tale, playing most scenes for comedic effect without foregoing a sense of peril. She’s aware you’ve seen this type of film before, and offers little twists on convention, such as a sequence where Grandma splurges her ill gotten gains on mundane items at a street market.
While familiar, the plot is made to feel brand new by Tsai Chin. So often a skilled supporting actor, she steps into the spotlight with gusto, creating a character who’s more than an old lady behaving badly. Indeed, she is out to prove that age is no barrier, defying the idea that one has to grow old gracefully. It’s a delight to watch her haggle with mobsters over the price of Big Pong, or wander through nefarious settings like she’s doing the weekly shop. The comedy comes from her fearlessness, a quality that also makes you want her to succeed.
It’s her show, but of the supporting cast Hsiao-Yuan Ha’s good-hearted goon provides the best scene partner. A big guy with dreams of building an app, they establish a sweet mother-son bond in the film’s brisk running time.
Lucky Grandma is a comedy that does the simple things well. Light enough to entertain but dark enough to keep you interested, Tsai Chin’s stern glare will etch itself into your heart as she brings some laughs to a gloomy year.
Lucky Grandma is available on demand from 9th November