No matter what you think of how movies are being distributed in the COVID Era, there’s no denying the quality of the films finding their ways to audiences. If you don’t think there’s anything to watch, that may be because you’re looking to the regular streaming services for your content. On this, check your local independent theaters and see if they are offering anything in their virtual cinemas. For instance, as of this writing, the Charlotte Film Society is offering access to 11 different films unavailable on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, and others right now. One such film that dropped earlier this year from Good Deed Entertainment and is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital, is the hilarious dark comedy thriller Lucky Grandma. Angela Cheng and Sasie Sealy (co-writers), won AT&T’s 2018 Untold Stories grant, allowing them to bring the entertaining tale of an 80-year-old grandma who finds herself in the middle of a gang war after she brings home a bag of cash she stumbles upon. When I tell you that there are no films like this available right now, that’s not hyperbole, it’s a fact.
If you’d like to learn more about Lucky Grandma but keep your experience spoiler-free, head over to the virtual cinema review from earlier in 2020.
There’s nothing about Cheng and Sealy’s Lucky Grandma that suggests that this is the duo’s first-time feature, especially under Sealy’s skilled hand as director. The story itself is simple and designed so that the escalation of events never exceeds reason, even when the bullets truly start flying. The composition of scenes combined with some truly fantastic editing makes even the simplest moments speak volumes. My favorite, of course, being early on in the film when Tsai Chin’s Grandma is starring down the photo of her dead husband atop an altar. It’s the kind of stare-down one only receives when they’ve done something profoundly disappointing, but the audience is left to guess what as this moment happens so early into the film. What communicates the earned severity to the audience is how Sealy uses the beat of Yahan Chang’s “So Long” to move the camera not just back and forth between Grandma and the photo, implying not just a connection but a contentious one, but the camera pushing further in on Chin’s face and that of the husband with each cut. It’s a simple method of editing, yet it tells the audience, who has just met Grandma and knows Grandma is destined to win big somehow, that this man is connected to her misfortune. It’s not until much later that we learn that her husband blew all of their money before his death so she’s literally left with nothing other than what she has. It’s a powerful emotion, resentment, and one which becomes the driving factor for why Grandma continuously keeps taking chances in order to hold onto the money. What is, perhaps, the best writing decision by Cheng and Sealy is that Grandma is never really phased by the violence that comes as a result of her choices. Chin’s performance, via brisk dialogue delivery and a somewhat stiff physical performance, convey that Grandma has been around the block and the threats of the young mean little to someone with little to lose.
Unlike some critics, I’ve been fortunate enough to continue covering new releases even as theaters have shut down. I’ve not seen as many as the larger outlets, but I’ve seen enough so that when I tell you that Lucky Grandma is one of the most unique films I’ve seen this year, I mean it. Amid streaming releases which involved time loops, cultural theft, chiptune-infused storytelling, and an artist’s rendering of a dog’s life, there still remain very few like Lucky Grandma. In front of the camera, you have an all-Asian cast including Chin, Corey Ha, Wai Ching Ho (Daredevil), Yan Xi (She’s Out of My League), Michael Tow (Slender Man), and Woody Fu. Behind the scenes, you have a multi-cultural cast and crew like film editor Hye Mee Na (Chi-Raq), prop master Izabelle Garcia, and cinematographer Eduardo Enrique Mayén (Future Man). Most importantly, it features a leading character that’s not just Asian, but an older female who gives as good as she gets. I struggle to think of another character, akin to what Cheng and Sealy created, that was done without an ounce of stereotype or caricature. The authenticity of character, of place, and of narrative is so well designed that there is little to remove the audience from the tale set before them.
On the good news/bad news side of things, the home release for Lucky Grandma comes with seven featurettes and one film trailer. The good news is that each one offers a different aspect of the production, even if the lengths are rather brief with the longest being the featurette “Asian Influence” at 5:13 minutes. The bad news is that each of them is basically an ad for AT&T’s Untold Stories program. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the Untold Stories program offered a Cheng and Sealy the opportunity to make their story a reality. It just means that the shorter featurettes are more sponsored ads, many of which are already available online. That said, through these featurettes, the audience is invited to learn about the process Cheng and Sealy went through to present their concept to the judging committee, gain some insight into the shooting process on location in New York City’s Chinatown, as well as the complexity of trying to make Lucky Grandma as authentic as possible through the integration of multiple languages and dialectics. A particular treat for those having seen the film proper is the three-minute featurette “Unfiltered with Tsai Chin” as this one-way interview offers the audience a chance to get to know the actor a bit more in terms of her background, why she took the role, and what it was like to work 10 hours a day and being in every single shot. The conversation may be brief, but you’ll walk away with the sense that Chin may be more like Grandma than pure performance.
One of the best parts of being a film critic is championing unique films that audiences may miss. Lucky Grandma is exactly one of those films that deserves to be seen by a wider audience. It not only offers an entertaining story from start to finish, it creates a world you want to live in with a lead character you’ll be rooting for even when it’s by her own hand that things devolve again and again. Lucky for all of us, not only can you visit this world, you can do so whenever you want.
Lucky Grandma Bonus Features
- Asian Influence (5:13)
- Why is this Important? (1:53)
- Unfiltered with Tsai Chin (3:16)
- Meet the Characters (2:32)
- Tribeca Premiere (1:33)
- Supporting Underrepresented Stores (1:30)
- Women in Film (2:23)
- One (1) Trailer
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital August 11th, 2020.
For more information on the film, head to the official Lucky Grandma website.
For more information on where to purchase a copy of Lucky Grandma, head to Kino Lorber’s website.