With a scowl and a cigarette, we’re introduced to the title character of director Sasie Sealy’s Lucky Grandma. This is the type of old woman—brought to life with dour vigour by Tsai Chin—not content to just wait out her life, even in the care of an attentive son. No, as co-written by Angela Cheng, this grandma wants the life she feels is her due. Which is to say, Sealy’s film, while modest on the surface, is rare.
After winning, losing, and then finding a large sum of money, Chin’s grandma is visited by a pair of gangsters. She’s told the money belongs to their boss and asked to return it. Instead, she plays dumb and stubbornly buys protection for herself in the form of Big Pong (Hsaio-Yuan Ha). Of course, Pong is something of a gentle giant—or is he? These events (and questions) exemplify the overall structure of Sealy’s film, one based around preconceived notions and their playful subversion. While Chin’s grandma is a cranky woman, she too cares for her grandson and protects a softer side. That doesn’t stop her from getting deeper into a dangerous situation though, one involving the aforementioned characters (and even more thugs). Still, there’s a cute balance maintained in the film, one that finds beats of levity while also arriving at some harder emotional truths. For her part, Chin manages the film and its transitions with ease. And Sealy clearly revels in what she has with her star, flattering Chin throughout the film.
In all, there’s an almost Yojimbo-esque spin to Lucky Grandma, as it becomes apparent what this elderly woman is up to in her bid to come out ahead. The film doesn’t ultimately get all the way there, mishandling some of its violence to arrive at a too-neat narrative end. Nevertheless, Sealy and Cheng’s take on the same old (person) story has a surplus of fresh energy. They’ve created a life here that is often glossed over and have asked us to look again.