Shaolin Grandma seems perfectly content being forgettable, boring and unfunny.
“Enough of the Ha! Ha!”
What can I even say about this bizarre little film? Shaolin Grandma centres around Miyoko (Chiyoko Asami), an elderly Kung Fu master whose temple is attacked by rival Ippon-ashi (literally “one-legged”), played by Nao Nagasawa. She loses all but two of her students and together they are faced with having to live in the real world. After struggling to survive on the streets, the trio begin performing at nightclubs, but once Ippon-ashi finds them again, they split and Miyoko is forced to live in the park. There, she meets a man who runs a croquet club and they fall in love (there’s a love interest rival there as well), and then she finds her students again in order to take her temple back.
The whole thing is immaculately stupid, and almost none of it works. The “ha, ha, she’s old and does kung fu” joke gets old roughly thirty seconds in”, and that really is half the movie’s joke-telling capabilities. Ignoring some of the other issues for a bit, Shaolin Grandma’s biggest failing is that it has no reason, no purpose. It doesn’t try to give anyone any sense of an arc, and none of the characters have any particular agency. Half the time it seems like Miyoko doesn’t really care about anything. This is largely due to Asami’s performance.
Asami is largely known as a recurring guest in Gaki no Tsukai, as “Obachan”, an emotionless grandma whose only goal is to assault the cast members. She brings this stone-faced attitude to the role, which makes me think that her face is unable to move in any other way. She barely says a word throughout – another trait she’s known for – but this doesn’t exactly help the movie in giving us a character we care about. After Asami, the only major character is the postman who walks in at the beginning of the film to find her dead, and through whose reading of her journals (in 5 volumes, randomly located around the house) we learn her story. But he doesn’t do much, either, so we’re left with hollow shells of characters and not real people.
The movie feels cheaply made, over the course of a couple of weekends. The acting is choppy, the editing is terrible and the overall impression is that of a weird, student film or a bit of sketch comedy that went an hour too long. While it isn’t unwatchable – there are some decent moments (I laughed out loud during the postman’s discomfort while skipping through the volumes of erotic material the Grandma wrote about her relationship with the croquet guy), it’s pretty damn bad. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a satire (and if so, a satire of what?), a straight-up kung fu film, or something in between.
At least it’s mercifully short, but even then it feels overlong. Overall, it’s damn near impossible to recommend this movie. It’s not bad enough to be worth watching ironically for laughs with friends, and it’s definitely not good enough to watch seriously. Go see Kung Fu Hustle or something else entirely. This one is best left forgotten (and likely will be, two minutes after having seen it).
Verdict: Shaolin Grandma is good if you feel like completely wasting 74 minutes
The Asian Cinema Critic Rating System
Overall entertainment: 4/10
Violence: Barely any. This was about kung fu, dammit!
Sex: 1 pretty good joke/10
Jokes: A couple sprinkled throughout
Ending: So … did she kill him? Why?
Shaolin Grandma (2008)
Also known as: Shôrin rôjo
Director: Kotaro Terauchi
Writer: Kotaro Terauchi, Karoruko
Chiyoko Asami – Miyoko / Shaolin Grandma
Nao Nagasawa – Ippon-aishi
Kazuyuki Senba – Her husband whose name I’ve forgotten