Take a little bit of Asian cinema quirk and charm and mix it with a strong dose of Guy Ritchie street crime thuggery and the result is the delightful Lucky Grandma. While I was unsure what to expect from this film, I have come away from it hailing Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin – Memoirs Of A Geisha) and Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha – Acting Out Of Love) as my heroes of 2020.
If from the title of the film you are expecting a nice little film that Betty White would be at home in… think again. Grandma Wong is a chain smoking Chinese grandmother living in the rough Chinatown of New York City. She is known for her toughness and doesn’t look at all pleased when her son suggests that he moves in with her.
Despite her tough, ‘I-take-no-shit’ exterior, Grandma Wong does find that she has bitten off more than she can chew when a simple day trip to a casino ends with her becoming the number one of target of the deadly Red Dragon gang. In a bid to protect herself, she turns to a rival gang for help and the result is a quietly spoken giant called Big Pong being sent to protect her.
Okay, I am probably going to get a little bit gushy here but Lucky Grandma is certainly one of my favourite films of 2020. I found myself laughing out loud over and over to Angela Cheng’s (Guessing Game) screenplay, while director Sasie Sealy (Dance Mania Fantastic) was brilliant at allowing the film to slip between genres with complete ease.
I have seen a lot of films over the years that try to mix humour with polar-opposite genres and fail miserably. Somehow here though, Sealy manages to mix the odd moment of hilarity in amongst scenes that contain martial art fights, right through to the extremes of a character slicing his tongue with a switchblade. Yes, there are scenes where Lucky Grandma is particularly nasty, but let’s be honest – it wouldn’t really be a New York gangster film if without. Then there are the moments of humour that never miss their mark. Yes, I feel proud to say that at least one film in 2020 that attempts to be funny actually works.
The key to me falling in love with Lucky Grandma though was the characterisation that Cheng’s screenplay so expertly brings to the screen. Every character has something about them that makes them an individual and nothing about them ever feels forced or under-written. Even the ‘gangsters’ that repeatedly turn up to confront Grandma Wong are certainly not clichés, that alone is something that separates Lucky Grandma from the typical tonne of gangster films that surface every year.
The two characters that shine here though are Grandma Wong and Big Pong. Until now Guy Ritchie was the only filmmaker who could make a gangster as memorable as Big Pong, yet here Sealy brings a character to the big screen that is so lovable, you just want to see him have his own spin-off – either on the big screen or the small screen. Then there is Grandma Wong – a grandmother who takes no bullshit but at the same time has a vulnerability that instantly makes you fall in love with her.
Witty, quirky and edgy – there is just so much to love about Lucy Grandma. This is a film that is going to sweep across Asian cinemas, winning over a myriad of fans, and now I can only hope that the Western world also gives it the respect that it deserves.