A Different Grandma Straight out of Chinatown

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A Very Different Kind of Screen Grandma Straight out of Chinatown

It’s often been a criticism of the movie industry that older actors are seldom the protagonists. This is particularly true for female actors who find that, once they’re over 40, the roles tend to dry up almost totally.

And, even if there is a part in a movie for an actor in her seventh or eighth decade, the chances are that they will be in a peripheral role that is, at best, of secondary importance to the main action. That’s why Lucky Grandma, the debut movie directed by Sasie Sealy and starring Tsai Chin, makes for a refreshing change.

The low-budget indie film was partly funded to the tune of $1 million by AT&T as part of its Untold stories initiative, and premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. Critics received the movie very favourably, and it has achieved a very respectable 95% Tomatometer rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Plot-wise, it’s a simple set-up. Chin plays a widowed grandma living in Chinatown, New York who goes to see a fortune teller and discovers that October 28th is going to be a very lucky day for her. Coincidentally, this is the day when there is an organised coach trip to a casino in Atlantic City planned.

It may be her lucky day on paper. But its consequences mean that she may have been better advised staying home in her New York apartment.

However, although serious in its consequences, the movie adheres to a light-hearted tone, somewhat playing on the stereotype that traditional casino gaming is extremely popular to the older generation. While this is true, it's safe to say that the industry has, itself evolved, with online sites such as bonusfinder.com, now proving to be the most popular way to gamble. The industry's new digital landscape means that it now attracts much broader demographics than our Lucky Grandma, who, throughout the movie, seems to be determined to resolutely stay in the analogue age.

On the way home from the casino the old man sitting next to her suddenly has a heart attack and dies. Then, the coach lurches, and his bag falls from the shelf above her into her lap. On looking inside, she discovers that it is full of dollar bills. But it’s only after she has gone on an ostentatious spending spree with the money that she learns that the dead man was an accountant for a Chinese criminal gang – and they want their money back.

But she’s also a stubborn grandma, so when two heavies come to her flat to reclaim the money, she flatly denies knowing anything about it. The film then unfolds with her trying to outwit the gangsters with the help of a bodyguard who she has hired with $5,000 of the stolen cash.

As the review on the rogerebert.com site points out, it’s Chin’s portrayal of the chain-smoking grandma that really makes the movie and shows what a versatile actor she is. But then, that’s what one might expect from someone who has appeared in no less than two Bond movies, You Only Live Twice and Casino Royale as well starring in the much-admired The Joy Luck Club.

So maybe, just maybe, Hollywood will wake up to the fact that movies starring older actors do make for good box office. And many are hoping that this is a realisation that will come quite soon.

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