Friday, May 22, 2020


Another selection in the Steve Weiss "No Festival Required" virtual cinema...

Lucky Grandma--Grandma Wong's fortune teller pronounces that her luck looks uncommonly auspicious, and at first the prophecy seems true: She returns from a bus trip to a casino to her little apartment in New York's Chinatown with a bagful of cash. The trouble is, a local gang thinks the money belongs to them and sends goons to intimidate her. Grandma Wong hires a bodyguard, Big Pong, from a rival gang, but she's still in danger.

The title character here is played by Tsai Chin, best known to American audiences as a "Bond girl" in You Only Live Twice, though I tend to remember her as Lin Tang, daughter of Christopher Lee's Fu Manchu. Stripped of glamour in her mid-eighties, she has an exhilarating furiousness as the crabby, disappointed yet still determined Grandma, trudging the streets with a cigarette constantly dangling from her lips. It's one of those marvelous near-minimalist performances that elderly actors sometimes give, at the stage of their careers when they've finally internalized the idea that less is more: Tsai Chin gets more punch with a slight widening of her eyes or tightening of her frown than a younger actor would with ten times the emoting.

Aside from her formidable performance, and that of the mountainous Corey Ha as sweet, slow-moving Big Pong--he's amusingly contrasted with the tiny Tsai Chin as he follows her down the street--Lucky Grandma is a taut, snappily-edited noir, directed by Sasie Sealy from a script she wrote with Angela Cheng. It's funny but never quite farcical, with a sense of genuine peril and some touching, reflective moments toward the end. Also, Andrew Orkin's menacingly percussive, unhurried music is the best film score I've heard so far this year.

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