Movie News & Reviews

Big Awful Friday: 'Shaolin Grandma' cheap but funny

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. A once-great empire lies crippled by poor financial decisions and the abandonment of the core values that led it to prominence. Idealism is all but dead as costs soar while resources dwindle.

Yep, Netflix sure dropped the ball the last few months. Fewer good movies available at only twice the cost! Now that's a strategy to collapse a business around. On the other hand, maybe we've really been undercharged all along. Is any price too high for the service that brings us such surely sterling fare as 2008's Shaolin Grandma?

After losing a match for control of Shaolin Temple to Nao Nagasawa, elderly master Chiyoko Asami wanders to the city, where she takes up work as a club dancer, falls in with country club croquet players, and falls for a dapper old man. But Asami can't rest until she regains her honor from the deadly Nagasawa.

Shaolin Grandma is kind of terrible. Grocery trips have bigger budgets. Asami clearly has no martial arts training whatsoever. After finding her dead, Asami's postman reads the story of her life from a series of scrolls, two of which are crudely illustrated accounts of her sex life with the old man. Did I say these were illustrated? Yes? OK, just wanted to be sure. Because she's pretty old.

On top of that, she never says a word. That is a much better thing to be on top of than a croquet-playing old man. She's a cipher and the supporting cast is little better, consisting of types like the fat student, the small student and the karate challenger with an afro. Shaolin Grandma's first half is as cheap-looking, strange and unengaging.

But Shaolin Grandma is persistent in its weirdness. And persistence can work for odd little movies.

Around the time Asami's croquet rivalry with a middle-aged woman is treated with the same gravity as her brawl with Nagasawa, Shaolin Grandma becomes hilarious. With Asami reduced to living in a cardboard box and wearing pants from 1991, she's almost tragic too.

I can't make you watch this goofy Japanese kung fu parody about a silent, sexy, butt-kicking old lady. I'm just saying it's on precious Netflix Instant right now.

* Contact Ed Robertson at