Sentimentalising, patronising and generally disrespecting our elders is by now enough of a movie trope that any title including the words “grandma” or “grandpa” causes an involuntary shudder. That Lucky Grandma isn’t one of those films is mostly down to its star, Tsai Chin, whose many attributes include the ability to conduct full conversations with a lit cigarette suspended from her bottom lip. One look at Grandma’s stern face tells us she did not come to play.
Unless the game is blackjack, that is. Grandma is almost as fond of gambling as she is of smoking; so, after a fortuneteller advises that her luck will turn on 28 October, she joins a pensioners’ coach trip to Atlantic City. It will be a distraction from mourning her late husband and resisting the nagging interference of her son (Eddie Yu) and his family.
Grandma makes for a very different type of casino patron than the one Chin cameoed as in 2006’s Casino Royale (itself a nod to her 1967 Bond girl turn in You Only Live Twice). When fate eventually leads Grandma to the promised riches, it’s via a circuitous route that draws attention from the local Chinese mafia. Ever the bargain hunter, she hires a “discount bodyguard” from a rival gang (Taiwanese basketball pro Hsiao-Yuan Ha) and there ensues a knockabout crime caper, in which an elderly woman is the protagonist, and not the punchline – for a change.
The simple originality of this setup, which takes place in a Chinese language-speaking corner of New York City, is delight enough, but Lucky Grandma is also full of unexpected comic touches, such as the grandson’s YouTube dance routines. The result is a film that’s people-pleasing in inverse proportion to its grouchy heroine.
• Lucky Grandma is available on digital platforms from 9 November.