With an opening that evokes a somehow unproblematic Quentin Tarantino or more humble Edgar Wright, writer/director Sasie Sealy’s Lucky Grandma is immediately “on.” Quiet visual cues shout character qualities like a megaphone pressed to an eardrum. With her slouched posture and cigarette always seemingly about to leap to its death from the corner of her mouth, Grandma (Tsai Chin) is a curmudgeonly force of nature. If we lived in a better world, this film would launch a franchise, starting with Lucky Grandma 2: Go Luck Yourself.
As the CDC would recommend, Sealy and cowriter Angela Cheng give Grandma plenty of room to breathe. The entirety of the plot is really one sentence: After losing all her money at a casino, Grandma takes a bag filled with money from a dude who died of a heart attack next to her on the bus, sparking a gang war to get the cash back. Instead of plot contrivances, Sealy and Cheng load the flick up with delightful encounters.
Do you want to see Grandma hire a gigantic bodyguard named Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha) to protect her from the gangster known as Little Handsome (Michael Tow)? You do. You really do. Do you want to see Grandma negotiate with Sister Fong (Yan Xi), a sleek criminal mastermind, while they get steamed in a sauna? Of course, don’t be silly. Do you want to see Grandma hobble her way through a full-on warehouse shootout? In what world would anyone not want to see this?
Some of the best original films are not woven from new fabrics but fashioned from familiar patches of cliches, sewn together in new and exciting ways. Lucky Grandma isn’t some revolutionary concept or innovative storytelling. Honestly, that kind of Christopher Nolan-ish inventive blockbuster bullshit that is packed with a bible-length backstory can be just exhausting, right? The number of films centered entirely around a complex elderly woman made each year is closer to 0 than any other number. Finding cinema that centers nearly exclusively on an older Asian woman is like playing “pin the tail on the literal unicorn.”
To be fair, Tsai Chin’s performance is something of a unicorn, insofar as it is wholly unique and downright magical. Grandma is flat-out unlikable in most regards. So why is she also somehow completely lovable? She grumps and grouses, lies and manipulates, selfishly putting her grandson and new friends on the wrong end of gangsters’ guns. But you cannot help but want more of her, to root for her, and to marvel at the actress behind her.
If Sealy and Chin want to get together to make a trilogy, Lucky Grandma 3: The Luck Stops Here will likely be every bit as delightful. At a time when everything feels so heavy and hard, Lucky Grandma is a breezy, brief treat.
Grade = A