REVIEW: In ‘How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies,’ attention is supreme love (2024)

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

In How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies, prosperity and abundance seem to initially mean differently for M (Putthipong “Billkin” Assaratanakul), a teenage boy who hails from a Thai-Chinese family. He drops out of school to chase his dreams of becoming a game caster, but his priorities shift when he finds out his beloved Amah (grandmother) (Usha Seamkhum) has been diagnosed with cancer. Seeing this as a chance to inherit her property, M decides to take on her care.

However, their bond deepens, and M's motives transform. This hidden agenda of winning her favor—which M took notes from cousin Mui, caretaker of their grandfather—would soon develop into something deeper, turning the lukewarm grandmother-grandson relationship into a life-changing connection.

The moments within this timeframe have sent Southeast Asia into a cryfest. There’s an avalanche of TikToks showcasing “before” and “after” screening moments, with the end product being moviegoers’ puffy eyes and dumbfounded faces. It almost feels intrusive to me, especially when the cinema lights turn back on and the credits roll.

But while it is true that this debut feature film of Pat Boonnitipat (Bad Genius The Series, Project S The Series) is the epitome of an emotional wreck, it deserves to be called more than a tearjerker. This is considering how movies merely described this way may just be assumed as emotionally manipulative or exploitative—as discussed on Reddit threads by film enthusiasts—which is prevalent in stories tackling dysfunctional families, tough love, and terminal illnesses.

If the greatness of a film relies solely on its ability to open waterworks, what kind of yardstick do we use?

Instead of soaking the protagonist in guilt and nothing else, forcing gigantic dialogue or resentful confrontations to elicit shock, and relying heavily on overly sentimental music and cinematography, How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies resonates naturally because of how mundane and diaristic it can be—and that means realizing how both easy and difficult it is to show up.

The film’s production design shines best in Amah’s abode. With shelves and tables filled up to the brim, what looks like a cluttered space is a reflection of her character: She carries a rich history and knows where things are placed.

Instead of a one-dimensional picture of a guilt-tripping senior, the film reveals Amah's self-assured nature, even amidst the strains across generations. During M's first days as her new housemate, Amah is firm with her household rules, from her preferred fish vendor to the on-the-dot 4 a.m. wake-up call, and even the exact placement of her Guanyin statue, the goddess of mercy she prays to.

REVIEW: In ‘How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies,’ attention is supreme love (1)

Even when it comes to shoes, Amah is rather stubborn in taking advice from M on what feels comfortable for her. “They’re my feet,” she insists, as they sit outside their house in Bangkok's homey Talat Phlu neighborhood.Through the film’s evocative use of cinematography, we feel the alternate moods of loneliness and warmth.

One particular Sunday only felt intimately open because of M—the boy nonchalantly divulges to Amah’s children (older brother Kiang, middle child Chew a.k.a. M’s mom, and younger brother Soei) that his grandmother’s been aware of her terminal illness. She has the right to, anyway, because “it’s Amah’s body,” he quips.

The happy-go-lucky boy mirroring his grandmother’s dialogue drives me back to the endlessly reposted John Tarrant and Tara Brach quote today: “Attention is the most basic form of love.”

Somewhere in the film, Mui mentions that M hasn't spent much time with Amah because he still notices the "old person smell."While this is true, the kind of love that reigns supreme in the film is the intentional and empowering kind. “If you do things just to get them done, don’t do them at all,” Amah would say.

In showing up, maybe you don't need to overstay; you just need to do things thoughtfully. This is probably why Amah said, "I don't know who I love the most, but I want to stay with you the most" to Chew during a sentimental time in the kitchen, as she sensed her daughter's enduring empathy.

I would’ve loved to witness more of Chew and Amah’s relationship, though—and with that, the depth of Chew and M’s mother-son dynamic as well. The film probably wanted to explore how women often get the brunt of unfair familial obligations, especially in elderly care, but it would be more cathartic to see her have her flowers within the same timeframe.

I also wished to see a resolution to the part where Amah saw M's social media post detailing her house for sale—a rash decision by M's previous self motivated solely by inheritance. Did Amah feel betrayed, or did she see it as a dismissable mistake?

Amah's love for her family shines through her actions, even the unconventional ones. The film’s gentle pacing and smooth comedic timing also add to how easy it is to feel like they're part of the family's journey.

Unlike its contemporaries, How To Make Millions Before Grandma Diesforgoes the climactic tearjerker eulogy scene. But if there were one, we can all agree that M would possess the richest arsenal of stories. These are the true millions he was meant to receive all along, alongside the prosperity-promising pomegranate from Amah's tree.

In the end, M shows up at the cemetery, doing the most peculiar thing just for Amah to show up for him again, too.

REVIEW: In ‘How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies,’ attention is supreme love (2024)
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