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‘Lucky Grandma’: The Chinese Dark Comedy With a 98% Score On Rotten Tomatoes

A chain-smoking, gambling addict Grandma facing off against the Chinese mafia. What's not to like?


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130 points

Let’s face it: 2020 has been a wild year so far. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, very few things have gone unaffected. One industry that has taken a particularly hard hit is the film industry. 

Since movie theaters have been deemed a non-essential business in the US, they have closed for now. Movies that were set to premier during this time have been out of luck. Filmmakers have had to rely on online releases. Some have have had to cancel premieres altogether.

Which is why it’s so astounding that, despite all the odds, ‘Lucky Grandma’ has managed to make such a sweeping debut. 

‘Lucky Grandma’, or ‘幸运的奶奶‘ is an independent dark comedy by New York based writer/director Sasie Sealy. It’s the story of a newly widowed 80-year old Grandma living in New York City. She’s told by a fortune teller that there’s good luck in her future. Upon hearing this, Grandma heads to the casino in Chinatown and goes wild. Suddenly, though, she finds herself mixed up with the Chinese mafia. A few wrong moves later, and Grandma is in the middle of a gang war.

This movie proposal was the winner of AT&T’s Untold Stories Grant back in 2018. It premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, and its public release date was set for May of 2020. Releasing virtually, ‘Lucky Grandma’ has gotten an astounding 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It has 90% overall audience rating, and one glowing online review after another.

So what’s so good about it?

‘Lucky Grandma’ is a story that intersects at the “American myth of Chinatown” and reality. It’s a story told in alleyways and mahjong parlors, where stereotypes that often apply to Chinatown are cast in a new light. Like, for example, Grandma “haggling for a bodyguard… as if she were buying an off-brand handbag”.  The director, Sasie Sealey, says this movie is a “love letter” to Chinatown and its inhabitants. It’s defined by both American and Asian influences, a representation of what it means to be an immigrant. 

‘Lucky Grandma’ also tells the story of an older woman, and the vulnerability of aging. Last year’s ‘The Farewell’, another popular Chinese language film, also tells the story of a grandma. It revolves around her sickness, and the desperation of her family to keep it from her. 

‘Lucky Grandma’, on the other hand, shows a different picture of what it means to be an aging Chinese woman. She swaggers down the streets of Chinatown with a cigarette dangling from her mouth. She goes all-in at the casinos. When threatened by the mafia, she uses her intelligence to defend herself. The New York Times review of the film puts it well. “‘Lucky Grandma’ puts an older Asian woman center stage without infantilizing or rending her pitiful”. 

‘Lucky Grandma’ is an absurdly funny dark comedy that tells of all the ins and outs of immigrant life in New York City’s quirky Chinatown. Chain-smoking? Check. Money troubles? Check. Gambling, and wielding a frying pan in self defense? Check check. It all brings together an original and entertaining film. You can find the trailer here, the official website here. You can check out whether it’s playing in a theater near you. 

Have you seen ‘Lucky Grandma’? Let me know what you think! 


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