Lucky Grandma (4 stars)

Lucky Grandma

Wildly funny crime caper from debut director Sasie Sealy, featuring outstanding work from Tsai Chin

There's something particularly pleasing about an elderly troublemaker and Lucky Grandma gives us a beauty. Writer-director Sasie Sealy's feature debut, co-written with Angela Cheng, is an extremely confident and wildly humorous calling card, enhanced immeasurably by a gloriously grumpy Tsai Chin in the title role.

The 87-year-old Chinese star of The Joy Luck Club – who also featured in both You Only Live Twice and Casino Royale – plays widow Grandma Wong, who has fallen into financial ignominy after a lifetime of toil. Based in a small apartment in New York's Chinatown, she's being pressured by her affluent son Howard (Eddie Yu) to move in with him and his family, but is fiercely independent and will seemingly do anything to stay that way.

When a trip to an Atlantic City casino ends in disappointment, a fortune teller's prediction regarding what should be Grandma's lucky day is borne out with the discovery of a bag full of stolen cash, triggering a gang war with Grandma right at the centre. After finding herself a target for the Red Dragon crew (which includes Michael Tow's maniacal Little Handsome), the diminutive pensioner hires man-mountain bodyguard Big Pong (Hsiano-Yuan Ha) from rivals the Zhongliang, and this mismatched duo become quite the double act, getting stuck into and dodging all manner of scrapes.

The hilarity of Andrew Orkin's high drama music wonderfully counters Chin's more subtle scowls, near-indiscernible eye-rolls and bare-minimum utterances; with a cigarette hanging lazily from her lips and unkempt in a way that suggests she's stopped giving a damn, the actress manages to turn this little old lady into a bona fide badass, even before her character gets caught up with crooks. Grandma is infuriating as hell, but hugely cheering in her resilience and refusal to be bullied. This sneaky senior is a breath of fresh air in a tired genre, as she takes the shenanigans of various gangsters in her stride; add Big Pong to the mix and this really is a crime caper to savour.

Available to watch on demand from Mon 9 Nov.

Lucky Grandma

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 27min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Sasie Sealy
  • Cast: Tsai Chin, Hsiao-Yuan Ha, Michael Tow