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Review: Lucky Grandma

This dark comedy set mainly in New York’s Chinatown begins with curmudgeonly chain-smoker Grandma (Tsai Chin – Joy Luck Club, Casino Royale) visiting LeiLei the Fortune Teller (Wai Ching Ho – Hustlers). Her reading predicts a most auspicious day. So Grandma immediately empties her bank account and heads to a nearby casino. But it’s on the ride home to New York where things takes a truly fortuitous turn when a bag full of money literally drops in her lap, kicking the film into action, as Grandma becomes the target of one of Chinatown’s dangerous triads who want it back. Fortunately for Grandma, she’s a no-nonsense widow who knows just what to do. She hires a bodyguard from the rival gang. What could possibly go wrong?

She doesn’t want to spend too much on protection so she gets a lower level bodyguard named Big Pong (former basketball star turned actor Corey Ha) who’s anything but a thug. He’s enormous, but more teddybear than menace, though he does take down Little Handsome (Michael Tow) and Pock-Mark (Woody Fu), the guys sent to intimidate Grandma into giving back the money, while alternately accompanying her to her hair appointment and the pool and watching soap operas with her at home. It becomes a very sweet relationship.

Early on we meet Grandma’s son and his family who want her to move in with them, but even though she lives in a pretty run down apartment in Chinatown, she likes the life she knows. And that money would allow her to be independent. The film’s biggest asset is of course Tsai Chin. She plays Grandma with such a stoic intensity and perfect comic timing that you fall for her. If the film has a fault it is that the story meanders a bit and builds to a less than satisfying ending. Nevertheless, it is a fun ride I’d recommend for its performances and quirky action film vibe.

“Lucky Grandma” is mostly in Chinese, both Cantonese and Mandarin with subtitles, and clocks in at just 87 minutes. Streaming now in virtual theaters.

 

[Mainstream Chick’s take: I’m a bit on the fence with Lucky Grandma, possibly due to a case of plot fatigue involving drug gang warfare and people caught in the middle, often through no fault of their own. In this case, Grandma Wong, aka Nai Nai knows she’s made some questionable choices. The consequences are at times humorous, but also perilous and sad (with veteran actress Tsai Chin deftly navigating the spectrum).  The story, while quite far-fetched, has relatable themes at its core. The film skews arty but does have some mainstream appeal. And while it may be touted as a comedy, it’s designed to provoke some serious contemplation of what makes a person lucky. Is it money? Friends and family? Health? Longevity? Who knows. Bottom line: if a dead guy’s bag of cash falls in your lap, you may want to think twice about keeping it. -hb]

 

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