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  Lucky Grandma Gangster Granny
Year: 2020
Director: Sasie Sealy
Stars: Tsai Chin, Ha Hsaio-Yuan, Michael Tow, Woody Fu, Xi Yan, Ho Wai Chin, Clem Chung, Eddie Yu, Mason Yam, Lyman Chen, Arden Wolfe, Zee Zilong, Kristen Hung, Emma Hong, Wayne Chang, Elvis Newman, Ali Ahn, Elbert Kim
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) has been considering her lot on life recently, since she lives alone, her husband having died some years before leaving her close to destitute, though she is thankful she still has a roof over her head. She doesn't have much else, however, as her son is wont to point out: he is paying for her apartment and it would be cheaper for her to live with his family, something she is reluctant to commit to. Thus a financial windfall would be very welcome, and to bring that about she visits a fortune teller who allows her to cast some stones and select some cards, whereupon she tells Grandma Wong she is currently very lucky indeed...

Well, we'll be the judge of that, as by the conclusion of just under ninety minutes of escalating mayhem our ageing heroine has not only placed her own life in danger, but those of many others as well, and all because of one trait that has seen her right for all the decades she has been alive: her stubbornness. Grandma Wong was one of the most intractable characters you would ever witness, convinced not so much she is in the right - there is evidence she has mixed feelings about the fortune she acquires - but more that she has to stick to her guns as events grow worse around her, and indeed because of her and her refusal to agree to any compromise.

And the bad guys who are after her don't even want that compromise, they want their money back, which is from whence the humour arises. Not that this was a laugh a minute kneeslapper of a comedy thriller, director Sasie Sealy kept her tone deceptively deadpan from start to finish so that nothing came across as ludicrously over the top, no matter that we were dealing with a character who would ordinarily be a bit part in a more conventional effort, the sort of cutaway to a comedy elderly person that many a lighthearted movie was guilty of. Sealy and her co-writer Angela Cheng wanted to get behind that kind of offhand bit of humour, give the grandma a bit of pizzazz.

Did they succeed? Up to a point, as it certainly gave Tsai a role many actresses her age would envy, not to mention many her age and race. She had been in films and television (and on the stage) ever since the nineteen-sixties made her a celebrity, first in Britain and then across Asia, making her a natural for the James Bond franchise when he went out East, though more or less in a decorative role. Nevertheless, she worked steadily and continued to do so into her eighties, the age she was at here, subsequently moving to Hollywood to illustrate the value of persistence in her chosen profession, and lo, she was finally getting a lead part in her Autumn years that she could have gone to town on, overdoing it to make an impact, yet resisted any showy grandstanding.

Tsai kept Grandma Wong just this side of believable, so while there were absurd things going on around her we were never led into questioning them as outlandish, though that may be down to the way most audiences were familiar with gangster movie tropes which this film employed, but also subverted. The fortune she gains is not on the casino tables, though it initially seems to be that way (she keeps betting on 8, of course), but on the way home, having won and lost that fortune promised by the mystic, she picks up a bag stuffed full of cash belonging to the elderly gent sitting next to her on the bus. And he has just passed away of a heart attack. Who would know? How about a gang of Chinatown triads? Who start threatening Grandma Wong if she doesn't return the readies? Her utter refusal to give in, even as the world is falling apart around her - because of her - was why this made you laugh, but there were nice character bits too, as her new bodyguard strikes up a sweet relationship of protection over her. But her steel, and Tsai's performance, was what you reacted to. Music by Andrew Orkin.

[Signature Entertainment presents Lucky Grandma on Digital HD 9 November 2020.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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