My first press screening at this year's BFI London Film Festival was Lucky Grandma, a film that is, in many ways, a small miracle. When, may I ask, was the last time you sat down to watch a film led by an 82 year old woman of colour? I should imagine that most of us would be left silenced by such a question.
It's not just its a-typical lead that makes this film stand out, though. Lucky Grandma was primarily funded by AT&T, an American media company which partnered with the Tribeca Film Festival to kick-start a new competition named 'Untold Stories', a competition which Lucky Grandma won. The $1 million prize money was enough to fund the film's production and, after debuting at Tribeca in April, Grandma Wong has come overseas.
The film itself revolves around a grouchy, Chinese-American elder (Grandma Wong, played by Tsai Chin) who, on one October evening, accidentally kick-starts a Chinatown gang war. The script's brilliantly dark humour is spearheaded by Chin's performance - she really is a star - and it is her magnetic on-screen presence which ease's the burden of the film's gentle pace.
Sasie Sealy, the writer-director of Lucky Grandma, expressed in an interview how she wanted the film the be a "love letter to Chinatown" - she clearly succeeds. Most of the film is in Cantonese, despite its American setting, and the sets are lavishly, authentically decorated. The film's depiction of Chinese-American culture is unapologetic and playful, and it was a delight to view New York through the eyes of the eponymous matriarch.
A few of the jokes don't land, and the film's 'action' could have benefited from better choreography, but I can't complain too much. After all, I just watched an elderly woman fight her way through a mob armed with only her wits and a frying pan. Sealy's debut feature is a joy, a breath of fresh air, and I hope a UK distributor or streaming service picks it up so that you can meet Grandma Wong too.
What a fun way to kick off this year's festival!
Written by James Green