“How to Make Millions Before Grandma Dies”: Amazing Grandmother’s Love

I was told not to miss this Thai movie. It has been a long time since I stepped into the cinema. Not since the pandemic. Should I go?  The title was intriguing – “How to Make Millions before Grandma Dies?” Later the Straits Times featured an article about it, so my wife and I headed down for the 10:30 am and got the $5 senior ticket.

The heartwarming, charming family drama ran for two hours and seven minutes but it felt like an hour and a half. It was a charming, engaging, and moving gem: the penetrating dialogue, the straightforward yet compelling storyline, timely comedic commas, relatable characters, and multi-layered timeless themes that stayed with me many hours after it ended. Kudos to the director and writer, the cinematographer, and the actors who pulled off what would be a family classic.

I have taken the liberty to copy and paste a well-written storyline by Theresa Tan from Salt & Light. Do not read if you haven’t watched the movie:

“…the tale of young M (Putthipong Assaratanaku), a university dropout who spends his days being a “game caster”. Nowhere near making the millions he imagined, he leeches off his hardworking, long-suffering mother Chew (Sarinat Thomas), and has no time nor regard for family traditions. One day, he watches his cousin Mui inherit her grandfather’s huge house after becoming his caregiver in his last days. She tells M that she became Agong’s “number one” by giving him the one thing nobody else – not even his children – could: Time. Inspired, M sets his sights on his ageing Amah (grandmother), played by the wonderful Usha Seamkhum. She is independent, lives alone and sells congee every morning. When the doctor tells his mother that Amah has Stage 4 colon cancer, the family decide to keep it a secret from the elderly woman.

M sees his chance to strike fast and move in with his grandmother. She’s no fool – the fact her only grandson suddenly shows up could only mean one thing. To his credit, M tries hard. He brings her beef noodles, only to be told her religion forbids it. He queues for her favourite fried fish, only to be told she’s already eaten. You feel his frustration, yet you can’t fully empathise because he is motivated by a potential inheritance. The development of their unlikely relationship makes up the core of the movie: A young man is transformed day by day into the loving caregiver he initially pretends to be. An old woman learns to slowly trust one member of the family again after being hurt and disappointed for so many years.

The tension lies in the question: “Who will get the house after she dies?” It’s a common breaking point for many families, especially Asian families, whether rich or modest. The oldest son, Kiang, whom everyone believes is her favourite, makes a bid to move his mother into his big house in the country, where he lives with his gold-digger wife and only daughter who attends international school and speaks English. The youngest son, Soei is a gambler who is always stealing from his mother and running away from creditors. The daughter in the middle, Chew, works blue-collar jobs and is the one constantly saddled with taking her mother to the doctor and doing other tasks expected of daughters.

The tussle for the title deed to her small house happens when Amah’s chemotherapy fails. While his mother is in hospital, older brother Kiang demands to know where the deed is kept. Sister Chew tells him it is in Amah’s cabinet and he leaves in a hurry to retrieve it. Chew then pulls out the deed from her bag and hands it to her younger brother Soei. “Quickly get it transferred,” she tells him. M, watching this, is crushed. All his “hard work” had been for nought – his gambler uncle got the house even though he did not spend a day caring for his own mother. M rails at his grandmother for her unfair treatment. “Why am I not your number one?” he says, hurt. The only one who doesn’t put up a fight is his mother. In a conversation with her son, Chew says matter-of-factly: “Sons inherit the house. Daughters inherit cancer.”

The prodigal son to the end, Soei sells the house immediately, and puts his mother in a nursing home. M’s heart bleeds for his grandmother, who is left to die alone. He brings her back to his mother’s home, where he continues caring for her. Of course, Amah dies, but in the best way possible: Holding her grandson’s hand while he sings to her.”

Some films can be very nourishing for the soul. This is certainly one of those films that can be watched, reflected upon, and used to gently surface issues and shadows in our souls that need to be talked about with the Lord and perhaps with a spiritual director.

For me, this film mainly points to the heavenly Father’s love for his children. I see it most clearly in Amah’s love for her children and for M. Each of them did not deserve Amah’s love.

The rich and successful eldest son, Kiang, hardly spent time with his mother. Even during her cancer treatment, he hardly visited her or helped out, except to contribute money. When Amah’s chemotherapy treatment failed and she was on death’s passageway, he suddenly invited her to stay with his family in his large country home. When she refused, he was angry and halted communications with her. He asked the sister where the title deed to Amah’s small home was kept even before she passed away. Ungrateful and greedy son. Yet Amah loved him right to the end, even though she saw all his ugliness and selfishness. This is so like God’s unconditional love. Put yourself in Kiang’s shoes for we often similarly treat God as he did with his mother. Yet God loves us.

The younger son, Soei, was a useless leech and gambler who often stole from Amah’s meagre earnings from selling congee in the market. She kept some savings in a box in the kitchen and he knew where to find it. He was constantly running from creditors and asking for money from Amah and his siblings. He never cared about Amah before or after finding out about her illness. A pathetic and despicable man. Amah knew him inside out and yet she cared and decided to give him the title deed to her house. He immediately transferred ownership, sold the house and placed his mother in the nursing home. He couldn’t even wait till she died! Despicable. Yet loved unconditionally by Amah. This is so like God’s love. I hope there is none as useless and despicable, bound by addiction and without direction, as Soei was, but if Soei’s character resonates with you in some way, then there is good news for you because God’s unconditional love is available for you.

Chew, the daughter in the middle is the most moral and dutiful of the three children of Amah. She worked at a supermarket and yet found time and took leave from work to accompany her mother for medical treatment. She had no thoughts of grabbing the inheritance. She knew the ancient Chinese tradition of leaving an inheritance to the men in the family. In one of the most unforgettable lines in the film, she said to her son, “Sons inherit the house. Daughters inherit cancer”. Yet I felt that despite the nobility of her character, it was a coat she wore out of duty and a desire for validation that her mother never gave her. In another poignant scene, when she opens up and complains to Amah about her resentment, Amah replies to her, “You’re the one I always want to be with”. Another million-dollar line that resonates so much. This is how God feels about each of us. In our busyness serving the Lord in church, workplace, and at home, we lose sight of how God feels about us. “You’re the one I always want to be with”. What a powerful motivator to be more attentive to God’s desire for us to be fully present with him.

Finally, we see the depth, height, breadth, and length of God’s love in Amah’s love for M, her grandson with the ulterior motive at the beginning. Everyone loves a drama that shows a deeply flawed main character taking a journey that transforms and matures him. This was what exactly happened and demonstrates the power of love. Right from the beginning Amah knew what he was after. She knew his fake love was disfigured by a crooked motive of potential inheritance. Yet she allowed him to do so. What motivated her: pragmatism? loneliness? or wanting to spend time with her grandson? Whatever it was, her unconditional love for her grandson in the end affected him deeply, liberated him from the love of money, and taught him how to love unconditionally, the way she did. This is so like God’s transforming love. It takes time but God is infinitely patient and loving and if we abide long enough under the shelter of his love, we will be transformed too.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,

    slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,

    nor will he harbour his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve

    or repay us according to our iniquities.

(Psalm 103: 8-10)

This is a poignant movie that has rightly been released over Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It certainly will get people thinking and talking about family dynamics, Chinese traditions, inheritance, and other themes. It will trigger memories – pleasant and hurtful ones. It will make you think about life more deeply. I wonder what are your reflections and takeaways from this movie. Do comment and share it with other readers. Thanks.

PS you can read Theresa Tan’s full review of the film HERE. She has some interesting and practical biblical perspectives about inheritance.

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Where Are You? Gen 3:9

Well, Lord, I was on the mountaintop enjoying the fresh air and views with You. Freed from pastoral work in church, and able to do only what I love and want to do, I felt a new lease of life and vision. My physical health improved and the doctor took me off blood pressure pills. I enjoyed the slower pace of life, the simple joys of home-bound living during the two years of the covid pandemic, and enjoyed preaching in my home church and in other churches as well as in teaching missions. I received formation as a spiritual director with a wonderful community of brothers and sisters, many of whom became friends and fellow ministers. I was blessed by an ecumenical community of spiritual directors and religious who taught, formed and loved us. I tasted the privilege and joy of accompanying others in their journey of growth. Thank You, Lord, for a sweet retirement and transition in new avenues of ministry.

Lord, this year I found myself in the valley of distress and uncertainty when my wife was attacked by bacteria on her spine which caused unbearable pain for her, and anguish for me as I felt powerless to relieve that pain. Thankfully, even in the valleys of life, You are actively present. You gave me this verse in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” You spoke and I was strengthened (Daniel 10:19).

My wife was in the ward and the community hospital for a total of 51 days. You were with her in her pain and her deliverance from it. She went through the spinal operation You granted us a godly surgeon, Dr Reuben Soh, and his skillful hands stabilized her spine and removed the cause of her pain. She had antibiotics infusion for weeks on end. You gave the infection specialist Dr Jean Sim the wisdom to treat my wife. It was a medical emergency and she was in grave danger, but You, O Lord, was with her, and today she is recovering well.  You moved many pastors, friends and my church family to pray and You heard and answered them: today she is well and no longer in pain. Lord, You are so good.

Lord, I thank you that now I am out of the valley and in the plains. My wife Jenny is at home getting stronger with her twice-a-week physiotherapy sessions at St Luke’s Hospital and she continues with an oral antibiotics course. I am less tired and at peace. I am also beginning to return to the routines and joys that were a part of my usual schedule.  I continue to preach and teach and this gives me joy. I continue to give spiritual direction to a few persons who want You to direct their lives. I have begun to edit and refine the first draft of an e-book that I have written. I was able to continue playing pickleball twice a week whenever possible. Beginning in May, I will be putting on my backpack and hiking shoes and preparing pilgrims for their camino in October 2024. Lord, You also answered one of my longstanding prayers as I did not know what course to use my Skills Future Credit on. Soon I will attend a course on Artificial Intelligence, and it will be conducted near my home too. Thank you for sending Susan who talked about and recommended the course and helped me to sign up.

Lord, I know there are some limits to ministry and meetings when they conflict with physiotherapy and medical appointments. These limits, I believe, are necessary and will only be temporary.  I believe Isaiah 43:2 and You will strengthen my wife and make her as active and healthy as before.

Lord, does this answer Your question?

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I was reading this poem by Aaron Lee Soon Yong which to me conveys an important truth about prayer. It is self-explanatory so I will not make any comment.

On Prayer

“Of course He can.”

“But will He?”

“He will.”

“He will?”

“He will. Be God.”

(poem from Coastlands)

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My SDFP Coursemates

It was a joy to get to know and interact with these people who are passionate about knowing God more intimately and helping others move toward God. You cannot help but feel a sense of belonging with them. They were companions and fellow-pilgrims along the same journey.

The SDFP curriculum included a compulsory faith-sharing component where we share about the ups and downs of lives, listen to each other without judgment, honing our listening and discernment skills. Of course, we do small talk too, of current cost of living, Presidential election, our spiritual directors’ style, and the program ahead. My faith sharing group meets at Agape Village at Toa Payoh so we typically have a meal together at the hawker center before our meeting. We met monthly and with the sharing of life we gradually build trust and a safe space. It is probably the same with the other faith-sharing groups.

I decided to put up the groups in my blog to jog my memory should I meet them again. Remembering names seems to be getting harder. I face a person, knows him quite well, but the CPU unit in my brain is slow to bring up the name. Having this blogpost will help me for sure because after the program it may be some time before I see many of them.

Big pic L to R: Caroline, Amelia, Chin Meng, Joanna.

L to R: Andrina, Kenny, Teresa, Margaret.

L to R: Eileen, Seng Chor, Dorothy, Dawn.

L to R: Sr Clara, Malcolm, Juliana, Corinne.

L to R: Serene, Fabiola, Brian, Sr Bernadetha, Lisa.

You may be curious about how ecumenical my course mates are. Most are Roman Catholics with two religious. Among the Protestants are a Pentecostal (that’s me), one Anglican, two Methodists, two Evangelical Free Church members, and three Presbyterians. Five of the Protestants were or are currently in full-time vocational pastoral work.

While we have graduated from the program, we were encouraged to continue with our faith-sharing groups, and to continue receiving spiritual direction and supervision, as we embark on this ministry of accompanying others.

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Spiritual Direction Formation Program Graduation

Praise to the Father 

Praise to the Son 

Praise to the Spirit

Three in One

This is the song in my heart as I pondered over the graduation of the fourth batch (see above) of the Spiritual Direction Formation Program (2022-2023). I felt great joy and gratitude to be amongst those who were formed by a group of experienced, skilled and dedicated spiritual directors from Life Direction Singapore. It took a year and nine months of serious yet meaningful and enjoyable experiential learning and practicum. Even till out last sessions, our teachers were emphatic that we have to continue being under spiritual direction and supervision. That is how seriously that take this calling and ministry of spiritual direction. I now understand why this should be so. This ministry is a sacred and holy entrustment.

The introductory course was done online because of the Covid-19 precautions. When our first semester began, we were all wearing masks in class. By the time of graduation, we were all maskless at the ground floor conference hall of the newly opened La Salle House, a retreat house located at St Patrick’s School. 

Sr Elizabeth(above right), a Good Shepherd Sister who led the earlier program batches, brought us down memory lane with photo collages of the beginnings of the program more than a decade ago, and Sr Francisca (above left) of the Cenacle Sisters, who emceed the graduation service, was the program director of this batch. Together with her, a team of volunteer spiritual directors (see below, together with graduates) gave of themselves in generosity and a labour of love to form us in this calling. One by one our names were called as we went up to receive our Certificate of Completion, signed by Diana Koh, Chair of LDS Exco and Sr Francisca. 

The program included class lectures, mostly by Sr Linda Lizada (see below pic with my pastor friend Seng Chor), workshops, group sessions, faith formation, retreats and the practice of spiritual direction under supervision. We were all placed in faith sharing groups (see second one below) and were each assigned to a spiritual director who met us once every three or four weeks for three semesters. We also had to see two directees monthly, and our supervisor (see my supervisor Joy Toh below) during the nine months practicum. Despite having pastored for forty years, I learned so much from this program that would help me to accompany pastors in their journey of faith.

Over the year and nine months of classes, group interactions, and retreats all the participants have grown into an ecumenical community of spiritual directors. Life Direction Singapore, a Christian community of spiritual directors, has granted us complimentary membership and that means we have access to resources, ongoing input and supervision. 

I felt glad that I completed this program. I almost did not sign up, but God intervened, and through the generosity of an anonymous benefactor, my son, and a pastor friend, I have been able to be equipped to fulfil my assignment in the new chapter. Although I have retired from my position as a senior pastor, there is no retirement for a servant of God, or even a child of God. I will continue to steward my spiritual gifts and other resources for whatever God invites us to. I will trust God to lead Christians that need spiritual direction to me. Like all the other spiritual directors of Life Direction Singapore, for each session of 45 minutes, a little stipend of $30 to $50 is suggested. However, many spiritual directors will not allow a lack of money to hinder individuals who cannot afford it, to receive spiritual direction.

Pray for all the graduates of this batch of spiritual directors.

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