Two-time TriBeCa short-filmmaking prize winner Sasie Sealy presents her debut narrative feature Lucky Grandma at the 2019 TriBeCa Film Festival. It might be too early to say, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Sealey won another prize for this hilarious, action-packed slice-of-life comedy.
Tsai Chin stars as Grandma Wong, an older Chinese woman who lives in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown. Her life is pretty consistent. She goes to tai chi, she sees her doctor (who is not a traditional doctor, by the way, she is a doctor of Chinese medicine who at one point prescribes Chrysanthemums and a goldfish), and then visits her son and his children. She also loves to gamble. Her doctor tells her that she’s going to have a particularly lucky day on October 28th, so she goes with a bus full of other Asian American Seniors to a casino.
At first, Grandma Wong, who is rarely seen without a cigarette hanging from her mouth, is having an extremely lucky night at the casino. Of course, like most of us, her luck runs out. She’s distressed because she withdrew all of her money from the bank prior to the casino trip and doesn’t know what she’ll do when she gets back. Her son had previously been discussing that he wanted Grandma Wong to move in with his family, but she’s having a hard time letting go of her old life when her husband was still alive. This event pretty much guarantees she will have to move in with her son. Until a very strange and morbid bit of luck hits her on the bus, that gives her a lot of money but also puts her in trouble with not one but two neighborhood gangs.
“…Grandma Wong…is having an extremely lucky night at the casino. Of course, like most of us, her luck runs out.”
Lucky Grandma is a gangster comedy starring an elderly Asian woman, which isn’t exactly a huge subgenre, but this is a great start. The music by Andrew Orkin is incredible and sets up a quick, quirky pace akin to that of Jean Pierre Jeunet. It also has some stylistic camera and production design nods to Wes Anderson, but on the whole, it is a unique cinematic experience that documents the surroundings of one of my favorite neighborhoods in New York City. Despite the rampant gentrification that besets New York constantly, Chinatown still manages to stay unique and almost like an entirely different universe nestled between the Lower East Side and TriBeCa.
Sasie Sealey’s love letter to Chinatown is sure to be a favorite, but hopefully it’ll be loved by wider audiences as well upon its release. Tsai Chin is a revelation as the titular character. I also have a special love for her grandson David (Mason Yam) and his friend Nomi (Arden Wolfe) who can’t be much older than ten but spend a lot of their time making somewhat suggestive dance videos for YouTube. I also enjoy Corey Ha as Big Pong, Grandma Wong’s “gentle giant” bodyguard against the notorious Red Dragon gang.
If you’re a fan of comedy, Asian cinema or both, you will almost definitely love this movie. It’s a unique fast-paced film that’ll be sure to entertain even the most persnickety of audiences.
Lucky Grandma (2019) Directed by Sasie Sealy. Written by Sasie Sealy and Angela Cheng. Starring Tsai Chen, Corey Ha, Yan Xi, Wai Ching Ho, John Tan, Ali Ahn, Mason Yam, Arden Wolfe, MIchael Tow, Woody Fu, Elvis Newman, Zizong Zee, Clem Cheung
8 out of 10 stars