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VOD Review: Lucky Grandma

August 12, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The crime comedy Lucky Grandma, which had its Canadian premiere at the Reel Asian Film Festival in Toronto last fall and is being released digitally this week, opens with the main character, an elderly but feisty Chinese grandmother affectionately known as Nai Nai (Tsai Chin), visiting a fortune teller (Wai Ching Ho).

Nai Nai is told that she has very good luck, and that the 28th of October will be a very auspicious day for her. On the 28th, Nai Nai goes with a group of seniors to the casino, and she is indeed very lucky. But things take a turn on the bus ride home when the old man beside her dies of a heart attack, and the bag of cash that he was carrying literally falls into her lap.

Nai Nai takes the money, but her apparent luck turns to misfortune when she discovers that the cash actually belongs to the Chinese mob, who send a couple of thugs (Michael Tow and Woody Fu) after her to retrieve it. This prompts Nai Nai to hire a bodyguard, a very tall man named Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha), who happens to be from a rival gang, putting her unwittingly in the middle of a vicious underworld war in New York City’s Chinatown.

Directed by Sasie Sealy, in her feature directorial debut, Lucky Grandma plays out through a mix of Mandarin and English, and is set entirely in New York’s Chinatown. It was shot on location in and around this iconic area. This adds a feeling of authenticity to the film, which plays out mostly with a darkly funny and at times absurdist comic tone. Sealy, who co-wrote the screenplay with Angela Cheng, does a fine job of mixing different genres, balancing elements of crime comedy, shoot ’em up action, and tender character drama.

The film mainly serves as a showcase for its star, Tsai Chin, a veteran actress whose career spans back to the 1950s and is finally getting a much deserved leading role after decades of appearing in supporting parts. Chin is excellent in the role, showing a wide range of emotions over the course of the film, as she reveals a good deal of pain and regret that is buried beneath Nai Nai’s steely, chain-smoking exterior.

Newly widowed, Nai Nai’s son (Eddie Yu) is trying to get her to move in with his family, but she wants to keep her apartment, which is why the money is so important to her and feels like such a gift. The film is very funny at times, but at its heart Lucky Grandma is really a somewhat bittersweet story about an elderly woman’s fight for financial independence, making this a unique, Asian-influenced gangster comedy that is well worth checking out.

Lucky Grandma is now available for rent and purchase on a variety of digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

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