- Ravi Swami
"Lucky Grandma", Dir: Sasie Sealy, 2019
Following a review of "Lucky Grandma" on Facebook via a film reviewer friend I decided to check out the film, which, luckily, is available via the BFI Player streaming service, and it marks a departure from seeking out classic cinema that I missed, but still falls into the category of films I'd usually have overlooked or missed entirely by virtue of limited theatrical release confined to arthouse cinemas, in the pre-lockdown world.
The other intriguing aspect is that the titular character is played by Tsai Chin - an actress noted for earlier roles in some Hammer films such as "The Brides of Fu Manchu" and the Bond film "You Only Live Twice", usually playing beguiling Oriental women. A brief look at her Wiki page reveals an extensive filmography in many films in the West, from the 1960's onward to the present, including voice-over work.
"Lucky Grandma" is a black comedy about a recently widowed Chinese woman living in New York's (or San Francisco ? - this makes more sense since Las Vegas is several hours drive from the city) Chinese quarter whose luck seems to be in, according to her astrologer, but things take a dark turn when she becomes implicated with Chinese crime syndicates who want to retrieve a windfall that she acquires following a day trip organized for elderly members of the community to gambling casinos and in this scenario the film reflects two major obsessions of the Chinese everywhere, astrology and gambling.
Chin as M.Wong is completely captivating as a chain-smoking embittered grandma whose life gets turned upside down by a chain of events that include an accidental murder and getting caught in the crossfire, literally, between rivals gangs.
The film is almost entirely in the Chinese language with subtitles, which makes it unusual, a little like making a film set in London within an immigrant community but not in the English language - only M.Wong's son's family, as second or third generation immigrants, speak in English and with American accents and as such provides an interesting window into the long-standing Chinese immigrant community in the U.S.
Filming in cramped domestic interiors such as M.Wongs apartment or within the warrens of tea shops and criminal dens hidden behind the shop fronts of Chinese grocers requires skill and creative lighting and these aspects all add to the sense of atmosphere in the film along with a terrific and distinctive electronica score by Andrew Orkin combined with tracks used within the film and in the closing credits by The Shanghai Restoration Project, which, along with Tsai Chin, the film's director and Orkin's score make this film a total discovery on many levels and definitely worth a look.
The film is available for purchase and streaming via Apple Music as are the soundtrack albums by Andrew Orkin and The Shanghai Restoration Project.