Review: Tsai Chin Is One, Cool Grandma In Sasie Sealy’s ‘Lucky Grandma’

by Rachel Bellwoar

Here’s the question to ask yourself before streaming Sasie Sealy’s Lucky Grandma: are you looking for a gambling movie or a gangster movie? While there are films (Bay of Angels) that focus on gambling alone, crime and gambling tend to go together (see films like Casino or the overlooked gem, Pale Flower). Lucky Grandma is much more of a gangster movie and while Tsai Chin’s Grandma Wong is completely believable in that space, what happens at the casino is nothing compared to what happens on the bus.

Courtesy of Good Deed Entertainment

Like Nora’s grandma in the “Atlantic City” episode of Awkwafina is Nora From Queens, Grandma Wong decides to take a bus trip to the casino. A fortune teller (Wai Ching Ho) told her that October 28th would be her lucky day and it is (until it’s not). The return trip, however, is when Grandma Wong’s luck really starts to change (though for the better or the worse is a matter of opinion). Upon realizing that the man sitting next to her has died, Grandma Wong decides to take off with his bag of cash, never thinking that her actions would result in her coming home one day to find gangsters in her apartment unannounced.
Sealy’s camera loves Chin and it’s easy to understand why. Her command of the screen is formidable. At the same time, Grandma Wong isn’t unmoved by what’s been happening to her. The situation may call for a poker face, yet Chin’s expressions are always more revealing – not too much so, as to be compromising, but enough to leave an impression.
As captivating as Chin is to watch, though (and her performance is reason enough to check this movie out), the plot never takes off. Sealy co-wrote the screenplay with Angela Cheng and while it should be easy to tell the two, rival gangs apart, they make it more complicated than it needs to be. The Red Dragons, for instance, are the ones who first approach Grandma Wong. It makes sense that the money belongs to them, but the man who died on the bus is later identified as being part of the Zhongliang gang – the same gang Grandma Wong went to for protection from the Red Dragons, when she hired a bodyguard.
Courtesy of Good Deed Entertainment

Hsiao-Yuan Ha is terrific as the bodyguard in question. His uncomfortableness with violence makes an interesting contrast with Grandma Wong, who at least outwardly appears unphased, but their relationship stays fairly professional, which puts a limit on how far that angle can be explored. Similarly, while Grandma Wong’s grandson, David (Mason Yam), appears in a few scenes, you never get the sense that they’re especially close (or at least any closer than they are to their other family members). Had Sealy and Cheng developed this bond more it might’ve made the ending of Lucky Grandma stronger.
Lucky Grandma is available to stream starting May 22nd from Kino Marquee. The money raised from ticket sales will help to support local art house theaters that are closed right now due to Covid-19.

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