Published Aug 14, 2020By some measures, within 15 minutes of the start of a film, the premise should be well established. By that same mark in Lucky Grandma, the new feature from director Sasie Sealy, the filmmakers have rocketed through so much plot. This brisk thriller is remarkably high-energy, especially for having an octogenarian widow as its hero.
We're introduced to our lead having her fortune read, the word being she's up for a stretch of good luck. Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) could use it — she lives alone in Chinatown after the death of her husband, depending on her son to make ends meet. He wants her to move in with his family into their sunny, white-walled home. She thinks she can leverage the fortune teller's prediction and set herself up for life, maintaining her independence along the way.
She clears out her savings and goes to a casino. Initially, her luck holds and she's on a winning streak. From there, though, things turn and start to go strange. She's left juggling rival gangs and getting by on her wits.
From moment one, plot developments are piling on top of each other. With each new event, there's a new wrinkle, a character detail or reaction from Chin that's remarkable. Lucky Grandma develops a set of memorable characters who flesh out in natural ways, all while staying true to the feeling of the locations, and also showcasing a unique filmmaking style — a thriller hat trick, overall.
The details of the editing, shot choice and lighting only enhance the bones of the story. Everything showcases performances and action well, and Sealy knows when to switch to a head-on framing to shake up the viewer. The cuts are speedy and montage-friendly, the kind of work necessary for a plot as focused and driving as this one.
The film switches naturally from English to other languages, depending on the situation and characters involved. Subtitles shouldn't be an issue for most, but Lucky Grandma is notable since, thanks to the strength of the filmmaking, it could run with no dialogue and still have considerable effect. The work is action- and performance-based, even if interesting and remarkable details do come through characters' verbal interactions.
All this is a good match for the character of Grandma Wong. She's a still, unassuming character who, even in danger, never rushes, only shuffles. Through all the danger and intrigue, she's strong and decisive, a compelling force pushing the film along. Chin gives her plenty of stoicism but reveals a lot with her expressive eyes.
The journey she goes on isn't just from safety to danger and back again. There's a subtext to Grandma Wong considering where her life is, where it's taken her, and where it can go from here. Lucky Grandma doesn't overplay this, but this underlying theme and Chin's full performance give the movie lasting impact on top of the immediate thrills.
Lucky Grandma is snappy fun with a lead oozing watchability and flaunting unexpected charisma for a mostly silent, elderly person. Few wouldn't be locked in for its breezy runtime and stylish flair. (levelFILM)