With two fabulous performances from Tsai Chin and Hsiao-Yuan Ha, Lucky Grandma weaves a delightful tale that delivers the laughs and knows when to pull at your emotions to bring us a charming film that showcases the value of family.
Lucky Grandma tells the story of a cardigan clad, chain-smoking Chinese Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) who – in an attempt to get some cash – goes all in at a casino but lands herself on the wrong side of luck. Having gambled away with more than just chips when she steals loot from a dead criminal boss, she hires a rival gangland bodyguard Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha), to protect her from the violent crooks who are after her to reclaim the cash.
For a film that could go either way with being too daft to work or go too serious about being enjoyable, Lucky Grandma can deftly toe the line between the two becoming a Coen Brothers masquerade set in New York’s Chinatown. Writer’s Sasie Sealy and Angela Cheng know precisely when to introduce the humour in a film with a constant threat through it, even when we are in public swimming baths during elderly women water exercise.
Lucky Grandma lives and dies by how strong its relationship is between Grandma Wong and Big Pond. Luckily for us, they have incredible chemistry, with Grandma being the tougher of the duo despite being less than half his size. On the other hand, Big Pond is a big softy who just wants to get home to Taiwan and finish his app with his sister. Together they are wonderful, with a real maternal relationship as they help each other get through their problems, especially so when events take a dramatic turn for the worst. Their chemistry is so good that I want a series of films with the two just getting into hijinks worldwide. A cross country road trip? Give it to me. A space jaunt? Make it happen. This is an oddball couple the world needs right now.
Tsai Chin is unbelievably good as a woman who seems to have a permanent scowl that Victor Meldrew would be proud of. She frowns her way through Lucky Grandma, be it being short with bus organisers or shrugging off anyone who tries to get near her. She is a walking frown, but not all the time, as Big Pond and her grandson prove as their constant appearances give her life, give her meaning, and you sense the tough exterior is cracking the more she is in contact with others. A small scene with Grandma and Big Pond on the sofa, or as they eat food, is so heartwarming that you can’t help but fall for her, even if it means she might tell you off.
For a film as good as it is, Lucky Grandma is just too short for what is thrown in. We never get enough time for the film to fully explain its intent; we have so many themes running through the movie that either we get more runtime or cut some extra fat as it holds down the film’s pace far too much. While Sealy and Cheng keep the tone right, they struggle with juggling these themes of Grandma Wong’s independence, yet yearning to be in a safe environment with her family. By the time we get to the final act, all of that work is thrown away for a big standoff, as if nothing else mattered before it that wasn’t about the crime aspect. It just feels wasted.
While the movie takes a couple of dark turns, for the most part, this is a gentle jaunt that utilises its comical moments to a most effective result. Be it Grandma Wong’s wok or Big Pond and a pair of straighteners in a salon, this is a lo-fi film that marks Sealy as one to watch out for.
Signature Entertainment presents Lucky Grandma is on Amazon Prime Video 30th April.
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