Stirring Thai Film ‘How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies’ Has Won Over Both The Southeast Asian Box Office & The TikTok Generation

Welcome to Global Breakouts, Deadline’s fortnightly strand in which we shine a spotlight on the TV shows and films killing it in their local territories. The industry is as globalized as it’s ever been, but breakout hits are appearing in pockets of the world all the time and it can be hard to keep track. So we’re going to do the hard work for you.

This week, we head to Thailand and take a peak at a stirring, emotional film. How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies has broken box office records around Southeast Asia, with audiences lapping up the soulful tear-jerker and TikTok playing quite the role.

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Name: How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies
Country: Thailand
Producer: GDH
International sales: WME Independent
Distribution: Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, ANZ
For fans of: The Farewell, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films

When Thai filmmaker Pat Boonnitipat set out to direct his debut feature How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies, his main goals were to make sure he finished it in time for his grandmother to watch the film and help with his family’s mirror- and glass-making business.

But now, Boonnitipat is on the hunt for his next story, given the sweeping regional success of How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies. Since premiering on April 4 in Thailand, the movie has topped the domestic box office, raking in 334M Thai baht ($9.1M).

Outside of Thailand, How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies has become the most successful Thai film of all time in Singapore and Malaysia. In Indonesia, the film has received 3.5 million admissions, surpassing Korean horror film Exhuma (2.6 million admissions) to become the all-time most successful Asian film in the country. The global box office takings stand at 1 billion baht (around $27M) and 10 million admissions.

The film will be released in Taiwan on June 21 and also arrive stateside at the New York Asian Film Festival, which kicks off on July 12.

How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies follows a young man, M, who moves in to take care of his terminally-ill grandmother in a bid to win her inheritance. M is played by popular singer-actor Putthipong Assaratanakul (also known as Billkin), while his grandmother is played by relative newcomer Usha Seamkhum. In Thai, the film’s title is Lahn Mah, which means “grandma’s grandchild.”

Boonnitipat studied Communication Arts at university but was inspired to make films after watching the works of legendary Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Japanese directors like Akira Kurosawa, Naomi Kawase, Hirokazu Kore-eda and Yasujiro Ozu. He soon took on jobs making wedding videos and directing shows for mainstream television, working on Project S The Series and Bad Genius.

A producer passed Boonnitipat a script for How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies around three years ago. Alongside screenwriter Thodsapon Thiptinnakorn and drawing from his own life experience, he made two major changes to the screenplay. First, the duo shifted genres, moving away from the slapstick comedy elements in the first version to incorporate a more emotionally-driven narrative. Secondly, while the original version of the script only featured a grandson and the grandmother, Boonnitipat felt that it was important to add characters to form a “middle generation” of children. “I live in a big family, and all those in the middle generation actually affect a lot of the relationship dynamics between generations,” he tells Deadline.

Life imitating art

To aid with his writing process, Boonnitipat allowed life to imitate art by moving back to live with his 92-year-old grandmother in order to get to know her more. “We spent a lot of time together and I asked her so many questions like, ‘What would you do if this happened?’ and ‘Who would you give your inheritance to?’,” Boonnitipat says. He adds that his grandmother started to get suspicious about his intentions, but Boonnitipat later told her that he wanted to make a movie out of her life.

While the character of the grandmother was originally based on the scriptwriter’s grandmother, not his, Boonitipat says he “could only come up with my kind of grandma because she’s the only one I know so well.”

“I’m so glad that I could finish this movie while she’s still alive because this took three years. During the shoot and editing, I kept thinking that I really needed to complete it soon,” Boonnitipat says.

His grandmother managed to watch the film and her reaction was typically understated.

“She said that it was just a normal movie and added, ‘My life is much harsher than this’,” he recalls her saying.

When it came to casting, Boonnitipat says he wanted to find a lead actor who people could emotionally connect with rather than judging for bad intentions. Billkin fit this image well because deep down inside he’s got a kind heart, the director told us.

Seamkhum, meanwhile, left viewers guessing with her emotional expressions, he explains, and he liked that she didn’t have too much acting experience. Boonnitipat explains that the team discovered Seamkhum in an indie music video that was made five years ago.

At the other end of the age scale, How To Make Millions Before Grandma Dies has sparked waves of TikTok videos capturing viewers’ emotional reactions before and after the film.

“At first I tried to watch every clip because it’s so interesting that as a filmmaker now, I can see the reactions of the film’s audience from all over the world,” Boonnitipat says. “You can see the reactions and emotions, which is so different than just reading a typed comment. That has not just helped with the film’s buzz, but also for me as feedback.”

He says the videos have given him an education. “For example, I realized that people who watched this film didn’t talk much about the film, but they use the film to talk about their lives, so these reactions have taught me a lot on about how this film has affected the psychology of the audience.”

The movie’s record-breaking box office run has surprised Boonnitipat, who had initially agreed to go back to help with his family’s business after making one film. “As a filmmaker, our profession is not really solid. I said yes to helping with the family business before even finishing the film,” he adds.

He first got a sense that the film might be bigger than he had imagined it to be after it found success in Indonesia. “Everyone had told me that the film will do well in Chinese-speaking countries or among ethnically Chinese audiences,” he adds. “But in Indonesia, where the majority of people are not Chinese, and are also religiously Muslim, for them to react in such a personal way to the film, that’s when I felt that the film had something universal in it and would do well in other countries too.”

“People were telling me that the film healed their family and their hearts, or how they might have felt about a loved one,” he adds.

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