9th November 2020 (UK VOD Premiere)
Set in New York City's Chinatown, an ornery, chain-smoking Chinese grandma goes all in at the casino, landing herself on the wrong side of luck - and in the middle of a gang war.
Tsai Chin, Hsiao-Yuan Ha, Michael Tow
Immediately after a visit to a fortune teller who predicts great things for her, a grouchy Grandmother withdraws all her funds and takes a coach trip to a Casino hoping to win big. Placing all her hopes on the number 8 (or ‘Ba’, which phonetically sounds like the word ‘Fa’ meaning “well off” or “getting rich in a short time”), she finds herself on an impossibly long winning streak.
All good things must come to an end, however. When trying her luck one last time, going all in with her new fortune, she strikes out and loses everything. Returning to the coach with a bruised ego, Grandma settles in for a nap on the journey home. She’s disturbed by an elderly gentlemen who, after putting his bag in the overhead storage, takes a seat next to her. A bumpy section of the journey wakes her and also results in the gentleman’s luggage falling into his lap. He does not stir. Grandma places a horizontal finger under his nose to check he’s still alive. No dice. Being the nosey being she is, she looks in his bag – and finds it filled to the brim with cash.
Sensing an opportunity, and assuming it’s the elderly man’s winnings from the Casino, Grandma claims the bag as her own and wastes no time indulging in lavish purchases. But as quickly as she begins spending it, shady characters show up at her apartment. Now, this headstrong pensioner finds herself unwittingly wrapped up in a gang warfare against members who do not discriminate when dishing out violence.
For the first hour, there’s an extremely playful air to Lucky Grandma. We get to know the lead and it’s a wonderfully painted character. She’s a cantankerous and prickly chain-smoker who has very little time for fools. And yet, there’s an undeniably sweet and fragile nature to her, one that comes with her age. It’s a beautifully layered performance from Tsai Chin, an industry veteran whose career spans over 60 years and has appeared in two Bond movies; You Only Live Twice and Casino Royale. Her no-nonsense approach to family members, friends and anyone who crosses her path results in plenty of comedic exchanges and solidifies her as one of the year’s most endearing characters. The laughs really kick in when she requesting protection of gang member Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha) from a rival outfit. The pair form an unlikely mismatched friendship and it is an absolute joy to watch their connection develop.
So it’s a little jarring then when the final third of the film makes a drastic turn in tone. Up until now, the crooks pestering Grandma have been little more than a nuisance, with the interactions from buffoonish criminals Little Handsome (Michael Tow) and Pock-Mark (Woody Fu) bordering on being slapstick. Act Three, though, depicts the frightening real-world implications of getting on the wrong side of a ruthless gang and, much like watching your make-or-break wager being swiped away and swallowed by the chasm in the table after losing at roulette, the fun abruptly stops.
Regardless, Lucky Grandma still remains an entertaining watch, for much different reasons and due to the time put into developing the titular figure, but this mood swing makes it feel like two radically different pictures.
Wonderfully layered Grandma played by Tsai Chin
Odd couple pairing of Grandma and Big Pong results in hilarious scenarios
Complete switch from light-hearted comedy to a more serious dramatic tone in the third act may be jarring