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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Screen veteran Tsai Chin lands a delectable starring role in one of the year’s unsung gems

Illustration for article titled Screen veteran Tsai Chin lands a delectable starring role in one of the year’s unsung gems
Screenshot: Lucky Grandma

Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: For the final Watch This series of the year, we’re again highlighting some of the best movies of 2020 that we didn’t review.


Lucky Grandma (2020)

Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) likes to do things by her damn self. Her husband is dead, and her son wants her to move in with him and his family, but the chain-smoking octogenarian has other ideas. She’s still a functioning adult who can buy her own groceries, pick up her own tai chi at the nearby rec center, and get herself to the local casino, where she plops down her entire savings in one trip. (Guess how that goes.)

It’s on the bus ride back that a duffel bag full of cash literally falls into Wong’s lap. It belongs to a dead man, a fellow passenger who croaked during the ride. The old lady decides to keep the loot, splurging on a fancy chandelier. But the dead man was a thief, and it isn’t long before Grandma Wong is visited by goons looking for the money. She needs protection. And so she hires a bodyguard: a gentle giant named Big Pong (Ha Hsiao-yuan) who dreams of starting a health app. Next thing she knows, Grandma Wong is in the middle of a war between two rival Chinatown gangs.

This is just a smidgen of the nuttiness that goes down in Lucky Grandma, a crime comedy that went mostly unnoticed when it was released back in the summer. Writer-director Susie Sealy and her cowriter, Angela Cheng—who won funding for the feature in a Tribeca Film Festival competition—have admitted to modeling some of the wackier moments on the Golden Harvest films the latter loved as a child. They’ve also copped to finding inspiration in the most stylized work of the Coen brothers, from which the film borrows some of its eccentricities, dark comic flair, and collection of quirky characters—an oddball ensemble that includes sociopathic thugs and dancing preteens alike.

But the film is mostly a showcase for Chin. She’s had quite the career, with early bit roles in everything from Bridge On The River Kwai to Blow-Up to several Fu Manchu movies with Christopher Lee. She’s maybe best known as Auntie Lindo from Wayne Wang’s 1993 adaptation of The Joy Luck Club. Lucky Grandma gives the eightysomething a lot of room to play. You can tell she relishes the opportunity to portray someone so out for herself that she’ll put her whole family in harm’s way. (Grandma Wong is supposedly based on Sealy’s mother and Cheng’s grandmother.)

As self-centered as her character gets, you understand why Wong wants to hold on to the cash. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that people aren’t that keen on caring about the welfare of the elderly. In its own madcap way, Lucky Grandma shows how far senior citizens are willing to go to stay independent. It’s also a reminder of what a great year it was for female filmmakers—and how unfortunate it is that it took a pandemic shutting the film industry down in order for dozens of movies from talented women to get their time to shine. Hopefully, though, Sealy and Cheng are on to bigger and better things, once Hollywood can get back to handing dump trucks of cash—and big blockbuster budgets—to up-and-coming filmmakers like them.

Availability: Lucky Grandma is currently streaming, with a subscription, on Fubo and Showtime. It’s also available to rent or purchase digitally on Amazon, Google Play, Apple, YouTube, Fandango, and VUDU.