Director – Sasie Sealy – 2019 – US – Cert. 15 – 87m
An old woman in New York’s Chinatown happens upon a bag of mob money and hires a bodyguard from a rival gang to protect herself – on VoD including BFI Player from Monday, November 9th
Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) goes to have her fortune read. “Carps jumping over the Dragon’s Gate”, says the lady fortune teller. “So auspicious”. But Grandma’s life doesn’t feel that way. Fiercely independent, she lives in a small flat in New York’s Chinatown. Yes, she wins the occasional bag of rice as the 88th customer of the bank. And she goes on a day trip with a bunch of like-minded old people to the casino, where she does okay.
And then, on the three hour coach journey back, she sits next to a man who quietly dies in his sleep, leaving a bag of money. Ignoring the dragon tattoo on his neck, she surreptitiously takes the bag home.
From then on, two Red Dragon gangsters Little Handsome and Pock-mark start showing up to ask about the money. So she approaches the rival Zhongliang Gang to hire a bodyguard, beating the boss down from $8 000 to first $5 000 then $2 000 for the services of gentle giant Big Pong (Ha Hsaio-yuan).
When the gangsters keep showing up, Pong gets suspicious. Is Grandma really sure she hasn’t taken or borrowed money from them…
Set in the Chinese community in New York and mostly in Chinese with subtitles, this is effectively a Chinese production shot on US soil. It’s a likeable if lightweight piece with great comic performances, notably Ha as Big Pong and Chin as Grandma.
The latter has had an extraordinary career, paying the iconic Chinese girl who in her brief scene leaves the bed of James Bond and has him assassinated by gunmen about four minutes into You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967). It was the first Bond film, the first scene with Sean Connery and she the first Bond girl I ever saw on the screen and it made a huge impression.
She has a lot more time onscreen in Lucky Grandma and seems to relish the role as an unrepentant curmudgeon, a cigarette dangling constantly from her mouth. The piece focuses on her character rather than the violence and proves highly enjoyable.
Lucky Grandma is out on VoD including BFI Player in the UK from Monday, November 9th.
You Only Live Twice clip – jump to 4.00 to see Tsai Chin: