How to Make Millions before Grandma Dies movie review: family at odds in Thai blockbuster

4/5 stars

Already causing tear-stained hysteria in cinemas across Southeast Asia, How to Make Millions before Grandma Dies is a blockbuster Thai tear-jerker from television director Pat Boonnitipat, about a Chinese-Thai family of predatory relatives who begin circling their ageing Amah after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Pop idol and My Ambulance star Putthipong Assaratanakul, better known by the nickname Billkin, plays the college dropout who volunteers to move in with his grandmother in the hopes of becoming the primary beneficiary of her will.

It is first-time actress Usha Seamkhum who steals the show, however, as the septuagenarian matriarch determined not to go down without a fight.

Inspired by his cousin (Tontawan Tantivejakul), who inherited a small fortune when her grandfather died, M (Billkin) becomes Amah’s primary carer, despite her maintaining an active daily routine as best she can.

M’s decision immediately makes his mother and her siblings suspicious, motivating them to reinsert themselves in their mother’s life for the first time in years. Initially resistant, Amah slowly warms to her grandson’s company, especially as her condition worsens.

The family’s Chinese heritage adds an extra dimension to the drama, inserting a barrage of regional beliefs, traditions and rituals into an already chaotic situation, not least the decision to keep Amah in the dark about the severity of her condition. All her children want are the deeds to her house, in Bangkok’s Talat Phlu Chinatown district.

Putthipong Assaratanakul as M (right) and Tontawan Tantivejakul as his cousin in a still from How to Make Millions before Grandma Dies.

The cast do strong work, but even their performances cannot rescue the characters from being uniformly loathsome.

Elder son Kiang (Sanya Kunakorn), M’s mother Chew (Sarinrat Thomas) and their deadbeat younger brother Soei (Pongsatorn Jongwilas) repeatedly clash with each other in their insincere efforts to prove themselves the most doting child, but manage only to expose their own selfishness.

Even M stands firm in demanding a generous handout as recompense for his considerable efforts.

The only beacon of restorative humanity in this mess is Amah, who may feign ignorance but secretly sees all her children for who they truly are; somehow, she manages to love and accept them despite their numerous flaws.

Usha Seamkhum (left) and Putthipong Assaratanakul in a still from How to Make Millions before Grandma Dies.

Usha is absolutely sensational as the figurehead of this morally questionable rabble. Amah is resilient and retains a world-weary wit no matter how bleak her condition gets, and it is this defiant pragmatism that gifts the audience a number of genuine laughs, in between copious tears, on the road towards the film’s inevitably tragic, yet undeniably warm-hearted, finale.

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