Writers: Angela Cheng, Sasie Sealy
Stars: Tsai Chin, Hsiao-Yuan Ha, Michael Tow
Lucky Grandma screened as part of the Laugh strand at BFI London Film Festival - the synopsis of a retired woman who finds herself right in the middle of a gangland war in Chinatown, New York, definitely promised to be interesting. The film is also the debut feature from Director Sasie Sealy, who worked hard to get the film made independently with her co-writer Angela Cheng.
Grandma Wong (the veteran stage actress, Tsai Chin) gets on a Chinatown bus headed for the casino. Anyone who has ever graced one of those buses will be delighted with this sequence; the atmosphere, the people, the chaotic queuing and dinginess of it all; it's hilariously realistic and something to relish. Grandma has had her cards read and been told that today is her lucky day, so has taken out all of her savings in a bid to make enough money to stay in her apartment and not have to move in with her son’s family.
Wong wins big at the casino - only to lose it all. Seems that she’s a not-so-lucky grandma. When she gets back on the bus, the guy in the seat next to her has a heart attack and passes away. While she sits there in shock, his bag falls down on her lap. It's filled with money. It's serendipitous.
Unfortunately the random guy on the bus was a mobster, and his gang family come looking for it. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse caper which sees Grandma enlist the help of a bodyguard after being ambushed in her home, and tangled further into a war between several gangs who are all after the same money. It's packed full of action, and enlists a full Asian-American cast that reflects the diversity of the New York scene, which is so refreshing to see on the big screen.
If you watch this film for one reason, it's to see Chin in a stand-out performance that is brilliant to watch unfold. Her unwavering self of self adds to the drama-die of the piece and you can't help but think about the combination of people in your own life who is like her. Likeable? I'm not so sure. She's so stubborn and un-moving, with only little flashes of warmth. Engaging? Absolutely. You can't take your eyes off of her.