After a weekend that saw the failure of the $48 million production, Charlie’s Angels, which was supposed to be Sony’s big feminist anthem about strong, independent women, it’s funny (and satisfying) to see a small independent film called Lucky Grandma, which screened at the AFI Fest 2019 Presented by Audi last weekend, get it right.
Part of AT&T’s commitment to developing underrepresented content creators, AT&T and the Tribeca Film Festival gave Sasie Sealy and her creative partner Angela Cheng a shot at $1 million to make their movie through the AT&T Presents: Untold Stories program — a multi-year, multi-tier alliance between AT&T and Tribeca, along with the year-round nonprofit Tribeca Film Institute.
The result is Lucky Grandma about the coolest curmudgeon living in New York city’s Chinatown.
Veteran, 85-year-old, actress Tsai Chin (The Joy Luck Club, A Leading Man, Casino Royale) turns in a compelling, touching and funny performance as a cantankerous, chain-smoking Chinese grandmother with a small-time gambling habit.
Recently widowed Grandma Wong cherishes her independence, which worries her westernized family, especially her son, played by Zilong Zee.
When a local fortune-teller predicts a most auspicious day in her future. Driven by her desire to be independent, Grandma Wong decides to work off that newly acquired good luck and heads straight to the casino. She goes “all in” with her bank savings and lands herself on the wrong side of luck.
After killing it at the roulette table and mahjong, Grandma blows all of it. Empty-handed, she rides the courtesy bus home, but has the luck of sitting next to a man who happens to have a heart attack. The look Chin gives him when he has the audacity to squeeze in is priceless.
It turns out the man was carrying a bag of cash. In the millions. With no one looking, Grandma takes the bag and goes on a shopping spree.
When she comes home to find two thugs from a Chinese Gang Red Dragon in her apartment, Grandma is pulled into the middle of a NYC Chinatown gang war.
Realizing she cannot simply walk away from this turf war, Grandma decides to get some muscle from a rival gang and employs the services of a bodyguard Big Pong, played sweetly by Hsiao-Yuan Ha from a rival gang.
What follows is a bonding of Grandma and Pong in film that easily traverses between genuine sweetness and dark comedy.
Director Sasie Sealy brings to life a dark comedy about immigrant life, the vulnerabilities of aging, and an unexpected friendship in a fresh style and tone that is a departure from what we mostly get at theaters these days.
Set in alleyways, casino buses, and underground mahjong parlors with a cast of richly drawn characters, Lucky Grandma is not only a love letter to Chinatown and an homage to all the badass ‘poh-pohs’ out there in Chinatowns everywhere, but really a love letter to women of all ages.
Want to see two strong women have a profound conversation? Just watch Grandma Wong get sage advice from gang leader Sister Fong in a steam room, played by Yan Xi
Here are Sealy and Cheng discussing Lucky Grandma:
ALSO READ: AFI Fest 2019 kicks off tonight
Charlie’s Angels failed this weekend because Elizabeth Banks set out putting the film’s message about women being strong and independent with the style a sledgehammer coming down on a head.
From the terrible song “Don’t Call Me Angel” by Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Alana del Ray (Hello? The film’s title is Charlie’s Angels) to Banks’ name scattered all over the poster to star Kristen Stewart mysteriously and ridiculously licking one of the other angel’s shoulders on the same poster, the film turned off audiences. Women, the main target, and men did not respond.
In other words, the filmmakers told us about woke women. Not showed.
Director, Sasie Sealy and her co-writer Angela Cheng showed us a strong, independent older Asian woman, and they did it with style and honesty.
When Grandma Wong delivers a monologue that’s full of love and frustration for the dead husband she worked alongside for 40 years, but who left her penniless, we as an audience see not only the sadness in her eyes but her determination and strength.
Grandma Wong is truly woke, unlike the Angels.
These are the kinds of stories that need to be made, told and shared. We can thank AT&T Presents: Untold Stories for that. Each year, the program awards $1 million to a diverse filmmaker to bring their vision to life.
That’s what happened to Sealy and Cheng and we are lucky they did.
4 Ballpoint pens out of 5. So says the Geek.
Production companies: Treehead Films, Parris Pictures
Cast: Tsai Chin, Corey Ha, Michael Tow, Woody Fu, Wai Ching Ho, Clem Cheung
Director: Sasie Sealy
Screenwriters: Angela Cheng, Sasie Sealy
Producers: Cara Marcous, Krista Parris
Cinematographer: Eduardo Enrique Mayén
Production designer: Cassia Maher
Costume designer: Aubrey Laufer
Editor: Hye Mee Na
Music: Andrew Orkin
Casting: Jessica Daniels
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints)
Sales: Treehead Films, Parris Pictures