“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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