Tuesday, August 11, 2020

film review Lucky Grandma


Directed by Sasie Sealy

Written by Sasie Sealy & Angela Cheng

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Each summer, one movie comes out of nowhere and surprises audiences. In 2020, it's Lucky Grandma.

Part-gangster flick, part dark comedy, Lucky Grandma centres on a widower (Tsai Chin), chain-smoking and snarling from her Chinatown apartment in lower Manhattan. She has a successful children and lovely grandchildren, but essentially lives alone. One day, Grandma goes on a winning spree at the casino. She then crosses the bag man for the mafia and robs his booty. As viewers can guess, his mafia buddies come knocking on Grandma's door and she tries to outwit them.

Lucky Grandma could have played the comedy broadly and milked it for easy laughs. Instead, director Sasie Sealy and her co-writer Angela Cheng take a less likely--and more rewarding--approach by underplaying Tsai Chin's character, letting only the bad guys ham it up, and capturing Chinatown in claustrophobic noir. The movie is a drama, but there's enough dark comedy to keep the narrative sharp. Not an easy balance to strike, but it works.

Much of the credit goes to Tsai Chin, who delivers her Grandma in a tough, unsmiling manner. When she speaks, Grandma barks. You don't mess around with her, and there's none of this dragon lady bullshit that gweilo have inflicted on screen in portraying Asian women. We're not afraid for Grandma when the mafia track her down. Rather, we wonder how she will beat them. 

At the same time, Chin shows Grandma's vulnerability in one handpicked moment. She's led a hard life and doesn't care what anybody thinks. Chin's performance is a tour-de-force for which she seriously deserves Oscar consideration.

Grandma has help from a bodyguard, a mountain of a young man (Taiwanese star, Corey Ha) whose inner sweetness complements Grandma's cynicism. Again, the comedy between the two is restrained and never turns falsely saccharine. In fact, a hard edge underlines the entire film, as steely as the New York subway.

My only complaint is that the ending trails off and could've wrapped up a little sooner. Also, Grandma's winning streak at the casino is unlikely, but the movie is so charming that I forgave it. The photography, editing and music are top-notch. Lucky Grandma is stylish, but not slick. It is worth the ride.

Lucky Grandma is released on VOD today.

No comments:

Post a Comment