How to Make Millions Before Grandma Dies: a movie review
ALL IN THE FAMILY

How to Make Millions Before Grandma Dies: a movie review

(Editor’s note: Spoiler alert: Today’s column contains details that reveal major details in the movie “How to Make Millions Before Grandma Dies,” which is still showing in theaters.)

A mah or Grandmother (Usha Seamkhum) has stomachaches and blood in her stool, but her children do not tell her about having stage 4 colon cancer. This situation, one of several in the Thai film “How to Make Millions Before Grandma Dies,” hits close to home for many Tsinoy, Pinoy and other Asian families, making this comedy-tearjerker a box-office and viral sensation.

Hoping to be the prime beneficiary of her will, the family suck up to Amah, visiting her often and bringing favorite foods. M (Putthipong Assaratanakul), a college dropout, is inspired by his cousin Mui (Tontawan Tantijevakul), who takes great care of her own grandfather and inherits a fortune upon his death. So M decides to move in himself and take care of Amah.

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Suspicious of such sudden solicitude, Amah confronts M, who tells her the truth. Amah’s stoicism upon knowing she has at most a year to live, reminds me of my father, who reacted to the horrible news the same way. He had the same disease, though he only had one month with us after diagnosis.

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Amah repeats what M says—it is her body, so she has a right to know. When I work with families, some shield the elderly, fearing that they cannot handle the shock of death. I respect this genuine concern, but the older generation are often stronger than we think.

Amah’s three children portray negative Asian tropes. Eldest son Kiang (Sanya Kunakorn), a self-centered stockbroker, does not make time to visit Amah. The film satirizes his aspirations. He sends his daughter to an international school, endangering her fluency in Teochew. I laugh out loud when M reminds the child to greet Amah in her native tongue—most Tsinoy youngsters will likely squirm at this, given their ineptness in any Chinese dialect. Kiang also grandiosely brings Amah to a temple, but instead of praying for her health, he asks favors for himself. When she does not give him her house, he vows not to attend her funeral.

Youngest son Soei (Pongsatorn Jongwilas), an inveterate gambler, steals Amah’s hard-earned baht (she sells congee every dawn). But like any Asian parent, Amah still gives the house to him, knowing that this is the only way he can pay off his debt. In a self-righteous fit of rage, M accuses Amah of enabling Soei, and loving the wrong person.

As a psychologist trained in Western methods, I have to agree that M. Amah enables Soei, fixing his mistakes and never letting him face the consequences. But as a Tsinoy, I know this is part of traditional culture. For most of his life, my father, who worked extremely hard, was disappointed by relatives who asked him incessantly for favors, and he was saddened when some even got mad when they perceived that the others received more. When I asked him why he still supported them, he said he had no choice since they could not fend for themselves. My friends who migrated to the West cannot understand this, but those who are here nod knowingly.

This behavior may taper off, since the younger generations I deal with mostly resolve to prioritize their own well-being, and choose to ignore family entitlement. Whether prudent or not, I do not know, but the film deserves credit for bringing difficult issues to light.

Middle child and only daughter Chew (Sarinrat Thomas), M’s mother, is the most likable of the three, but Amah finds her self-sacrificial mien disturbing. Working a supermarket shift by night and taking Amah to chemotherapy by day is not wise, and when M tells his mother that Amah privately cries over this, the former retorts that Amah never sheds a tear for her. We know that childhood hurts lurk beneath the surface. M offers to act as his mother’s representative and bring Amah for treatment

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Filled with Buddhist rituals (Guanyin is my late mother’s favorite goddess, and I confess to lighting incense to her, too) and shot in Bangkok’s Chinatown, the movie resonates true, with a surprise ending that is also bittersweet. No more spoilers—watch the movie now.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her print book “All in the Family Business” at Lazada or Shopee, or e-book at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected].

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