Lucky Grandma (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): Can she really be lucky?

“Lucky Grandma” is a little comedy film which also works as an engaging mix of crime thriller and character drama. Mainly revolving around one cantankerous old Chinese lady, the movie delves into its distinctive cultural background as humorously going up and down along with its aging heroine, and it is further enhanced by the very enjoyable performance from its exceptional lead actress who has steadily worked during last several decades.

At the beginning, the movie, which is mainly set in the Chinatown area of New York City, shows its old heroine checking out the current status of her luck from her frequent fortune teller. When her fortune teller tells her that she will be soon very lucky, she promptly decides to test on how lucky she is going to be, and we later see her withdrawing all the cash in her local bank account before she gets on a bus going to some casino outside the city.

Things look quite good as she tries on her supposedly good luck again and again at the casino, but then, not so surprisingly, the situation takes an unexpected downturn, and then there comes what can be regarded as another moment of good luck for her. When she is going back to New York City by the same bus, she happens to sit right next to some guy, and, due to a rather unfortunate incident for him, she later finds that a bag belonging to this guy is full of cash. Firmly believing in her luck, she does not hesitate to snatch this bag while nobody is looking around her, and she succeeds in bringing this bag to her little residence without any trouble.

It seems that all she will have to do is quietly keeping the money to herself for a while without telling anyone, but, what do you know, she soon comes to realize that she may be in a very big problem. A couple of thugs belonging to some local criminal organization come into her residence on the very next day, and she staunchly denies everything without revealing anything, but these two thugs are already suspecting her even though they do not know where she is hiding the money at present.

Knowing quite well that these two thugs are going to keep harassing and menacing her, our old heroine decides to do something about that. She later approaches to some other local criminal organization, and she requests protection in exchange of a bit of the money. It takes some time before she and this criminal organization reach to the full agreement on who is going to protect her as well as how much she is going to pay, but she eventually gets what she wants at a ‘discounted’ price, and she is soon constantly accompanied by a hulking young dude.

For a while, the situation seems to be under control for her, but, of course, the circumstance turns out to be much more complicated than our old heroine expected at first. From a close friend of hers, she comes to learn that the owner of the bag had actually worked under a very powerful local criminal organization, and it does not take much time for her to discern that not only its ruthless boss but also many other criminal figures in the Chinatown area are searching for the bag and the money inside it.

Around that narrative point, you can easily see where the story is going, and the movie will probably not surprise you much in the end, but it continues to engage us as patiently building up the tension around its old heroine. While persistently holding the money behind her just because she still believes in her good luck, she naturally gets herself into a series of dangers, and we become more interested in how she can possibly get out of her increasingly perilous situation without getting herself maimed or killed.

In the meantime, the screenplay by director Sasie Sealy, who incidentally made a feature film debut here after making several short films, and her co-writer Angela Cheng slowly reveals more human depth from its old heroine. Although she is your average cranky chain-smoking granny, we come to understand its old heroine more especially when she finally reveals what has been churning behind her sullen façade for years, and that is the main reason why we come to care about what is being at stake for her around the end of the film.

Above all, everything in the movie is held up well together by Tsai Chin, a veteran Chinese actress who has been known to us mainly for her substantial performance in Wayne Wang’s film “The Joy Luck Club” (1993). Although she is approaching to 90 at present, Tsai Chin is still working as recently shown from her brief supporting turn in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021), and “Lucky Grandma” certainly gives her a rare opportunity to take the center stage. While never making any excuse on her character’s behaviors, she effortlessly fills her role with a palpable sense of life and history, and I particularly admire how she deftly handles the aforementioned emotional moment without asking for any pity or sympathy on her character from us.

Overall, “Lucky Grandma”, which got released in US and then quickly forgotten a few years ago, is a little overlooked gem which deserves more attention for several good reasons including Chin’s colorfully unforgettable lead performance, and I also appreciated its distinctive ethnic background details a lot. Like Lulu Wang’s “The Farewell” (2019), this is surely one of notable Asian American films during several recent years, and I assure you that you will never forget its old heroine after watching it.

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