2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Lucky Grandma’

May 3, 2019

by Carla Hay

Tsai Chin in "Lucky Grandma"
Tsai Chin in “Lucky Grandma” (Photo by Lyle Vincent)

“Lucky Grandma”

Directed by Sasie Sealy

Cantonese, Mandarin and English with subtitles

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 28, 2019.

Things aren’t going so well for Grandma Wong, the title character in the crime dramedy “Lucky Grandma.” Grandma Wong (played by Tsai Chin) is a feisty, 80-year-old, chain-smoking resident of Manhattan’s Chinatown, and she hates that her son wants to take away her independence by having her move in with him and his family in Brooklyn. When a fortune teller says that Grandma Wong will have a rewarding day, she heads to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Queens to try her luck at gambling.

Grandma Wong wins thousands of dollars—but then she gets greedy and thinks she can win more, so she gambles some more, and she loses all the money. While on the bus to go back home, a defeated Grandma Wong notices that the sleeping man sitting next to her has a duffel bag full of cash. Even though she sees that the man has a gang tattoo on his neck, Grandma Wong can’t resist temptation, and she steals the money.

Flush with the cash, Grandma Wong goes on a spending spree, which apparently didn’t go unnoticed by the locals. In a short period of time, she arrives home and finds two gangsters in her apartment, demanding to know where the money is. She denies knowing anything about it. One of the thugs slices his tongue in front of her to show that he’s so tough, he can withstand the pain.

Grandma Wong might have made the impulsive decision to steal the money, but she’s not a complete fool. She’s hidden the money in a place where it would be difficult to find, and she knows that the gangsters won’t kill her as long as they need her to tell them where the money is. Grandma Wong quickly decides that she’s going to need protection in order to keep the money. She goes to a rival gang and asks the leader Lao Shei (played by Zilong Zee) to help her. Grandma Wong has to dip into her stolen loot to pay for these services.

And who does the rival gang send to protect her? Big Pong (played by Corey Ha, also known as former basketball player Hsiao-Yuan Ha), a very tall (6’7”) member of the gang. Big Pong isn’t exactly an ideal bodyguard. Even though his height can be intimidating, he’s out-of-shape and doesn’t have a lot of fighting skills.

The two gangsters who broke into Grandma Wong’s apartment return to her home and try again to get her to return the money. One of the gang members gets into a scuffle, hits his head on a table, and dies. Because Grandma Wong doesn’t want to go to the police about this matter, she’s now involved with covering up the death of the gang member.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse game that involves a kidnapping, lots of violence, and an unlikely friendship that develops between Grandma Wong and Big Pong. The movie sometimes veers into slapstick comedy, but there’s enough menacing mayhem to remind people that the characters’ lives are always in danger.

“Lucky Grandma,” which is the first feature film from writer/director Sasie Sealy has some entertaining moments, especially those involving the banter between Grandma Wong and Big Pong, although the movie’s ending isn’t very original. “Lucky Grandma” is not a deep or complicated film, but it does have an underlying message that people should not be quick to dismiss or underestimate the power of a very determined and stubborn elderly woman.