Directed by Sasie Sealy | Written by Sealy and Angela Cheng | 87 min | Carbon Arc Cinema until July 16, 2020
Every once in awhile a character performer gets a meaty leading role they can really bite down on, and that’s totally what Tsai Chin does here. The Shanghai-born actor, whose credits include Bridge On The River Kwai, You Only Live Twice, The Joy Luck Club, Memoirs Of A Geisha, and Casino Royale — she’s a two-time Bond “girl” — scores big as the titular New York senior who gets her hands on an unexpected wad of cash, but it deeply complicates her life.
Grandma Wong’s a recent widow and a chain-smoking hardcase. Her family wants her to move into their roomy brownstone. Instead, she toughs it out in her crappy Chinatown apartment with an asshole landlord, taking all her savings on a bus to the casino in Atlantic City. She wins big until she doesn’t, but the real windfall comes with the bag of money that lands in her lap on the ride back to the Big Apple. That attracts the attention Chinese gangsters and she hires a sweet-natured bodyguard named Big Pong (Hsiao-Yuan Ha) to protect her.
The picture isn’t a laugh-out-loud comedy, it’s more a frequently amusing, somewhat slight action adventure and character study, allowing us a window into one woman’s desperation. Eighty-six-year-old Tsai Chin makes Grandma Wong a plausible human being with a lot of guts and a justified rage at the world, staring down fate. It’s all fuelled by a terrific Andrew Orkin score and a number of clever directorial choices from first-timer Sealy. If the conclusion’s a bit on the tart side, a visit with Grandma is still recommended.