Does luck simply befall us, or do we make our own? This is one of the big questions posed by Sasie Sealy’s feature debut, Lucky Grandma. This straight-faced yet searingly funny Chinese comedy swaps the cardigan-clad, rosy-cheeked stereotype for a short-tempered, badly behaved, chain-smoking matriarch. The result is an anti-heroine for the ages.
Newly widowed and short on cash, Grandma’s (Tsai Chin) existence is one huge drag – rivalled only by her steady drags on the cigarette perpetually perched on her bottom lip. So when life (and her fortune teller) deals our protagonist a good hand, she hits the casino, seizing the opportunity to claw back her luck by any means necessary. However, as Grandma gambles with more than just chips, she ends up entangled in the violent criminal underworld, and soon her stern façade begins to crack.
Tsai Chin is nothing short of spectacular. As a woman who drew the short straw in life, she wears disappointment on her face like a permanent shadow. There is a harsh authority in her manner that demands a respectful distance, and yet the subtle softness even in her reprimands draws us to her, along with her appetite for flaunting the rules. Her relationship with younger men in her life, from her bodyguard to her son and grandson, build up delicate layers of a complex personality. Her heart may be hardened, but it’s still echoing loudly under all that armour.
Lucky Grandma is a delicately spun and skillfully shot tale about ageing and acceptance, about forgiveness and sacrifice, fate and free will. It explores that impossible quandary of whether we can shape our own destiny, or whether we simply bow in gracious defeat. We will Grandma to fight back against an unjust world and transcend her fragile physicality, but at the same time, we pray she might heed her limits: fortune can be fleeting, and it’s a long way to fall if your luck runs out.
Lucky Grandma is released in select UK cinemas 6th November 2020.
Watch the trailer for Lucky Grandma here: