Lucky Grandma's Tsai Chin a hero you can finally root for

Lucky Grandma (M, 87 minutes)

4 stars

The older I get, the less effs I give about practically everything, and so traditional film heroes carry less appeal to me. The Rock, Jason Statham, Tom Cruise may convey that heroic everyman appeal, but it took Chinese actress Tsai Chin in this film to give me a hero I can really root for.

Tsai Chin as a chain-smoking cynical octogenarian in Lucky Grandma. Picture: Good Deed Entertainment

Tsai Chin as a chain-smoking cynical octogenarian in Lucky Grandma. Picture: Good Deed Entertainment

I'll take a chain-smoking cynical octogenarian over capped teeth and muscles any day. Here is heroism we can all achieve.

Chin is Grandma to David (Mason Yam) and mother to son Howard (Eddie Yu) who wants her to move in with the family to keep her close and save the family money. But Grandma likes her apartment in the city, and her independence, and so takes her life savings and follows the advice of her fortune teller, hopping on one of those sad pensioner casino tour busses.

She does become lucky grandma indeed as the numbers, the cards and the wheel all seem to go her way, and a big stack of chips banks up in front of her.

But suddenly Grandma's luck changes and the chips disappear. However, on the bus home, her seat-mate stops breathing and his travel bag stuffed with cash literally falls in her lap from the overhead compartment. Talk about lucky.

The money it seems is mixed up with competing Chinatown Triad gangs, and the next day two wannabe-Triad hoodlums Pock-Mark (Woody Fu) and Little Handsome (Michael Tow) turn up at her door to shake Grandma down.

For protection, Grandma turns to the head of the Red Dragon gang (Yan Xi) who offers her the services of Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha) whose services begin with accompanying Grandma to the hairdresser and supermarket, but soon Big Pong starts seriously earning his money, as something of a gang war ensues.

Tsai Chin has had a long and distinguished career, notable to Aussie audiences with films like The Joy Luck Club and Memoirs of a Geisha, two James Bond films - You Only Live Twice and Casino Royale - and the original Fu Manchu films from the 60s.

But it took the pairing of Chinese-American first-time director Sasie Sealy and writing partner Angela Chang to build this late-career bravura role that ought to see Chin with a pile of big Hollywood scripts to read in the coming year.

Part of this film's charm, for older viewers and cineasts, are the familiar notes it sounds, tunes reminiscent of favourite films of yore.

With her cynical eye squint and myopic stumble from hijinks to action scene, Grandma has the air of Mr Hulot, or Mr Magoo. With that same cynical squint and surly demeanour, she gives off a strong Tati Danielle vibe.

She reminds me of my own grandma who left my grandfather the day their children all had left high school and spent the next 40 years in Sydney tending bar, hosting gentlemen callers, slugging back bourbon like it was multivitamin, and crooning along to Deano.

I hope I can be as cynical and carbon-fibre tough in my elder years.

The filmmakers strike just the right tone of independent comedy quirky, throwing comedy and surrealism against actual-stakes violence and drama. It asks its viewers to think twice about the marginalised old victims we usually see in the senior roles on our screens, and in our own neighbourhoods.

This story Finally a hero you can root for first appeared on The Canberra Times.