Go Grandriders, directed by Tian-Hao Hua, is a heartwarming documentary following a gang of octogenarians on a two-week tour of Taiwan via scooters. Along the way they face bumps, bruises, and worse, but they also fulfill what for some has been a lifelong dream, and for all is a real thrill and a true sense of accomplishment, reminding both audiences and themselves that age ain't nothin' but a number.
The goal of the riders is laid out clearly from the start: they want to show the capability and agency of elders. One of the tour’s organizers notes that society shuts the door on the aged right around when they are able start living for themselves instead of for others: don’t exert yourself, stay home and rest, this is dangerous. The organizer adds that many of them are lonely -- a point that most of us probably know instinctively but is always painful to hear.
But they’ve still got their health and most importantly they’re mobile. When they stop at a nursing home in another city, they meet with people who are the same age, but these seniors are sick and confined to wheelchairs -- a sad, sharp contrast to the vibrant and giddy Grandriders. It takes more than sheer will to accomplish a daunting task: your body has to agree to the job as well.
The Grandriders are real characters, and many candidly tell life stories that seem tailor made for the big screen: the former policeman who wants to continue to serve his community; the youthful couple in their 70s who call the trip the honeymoon they didn’t have; the former Kamikaze pilot trainer who can’t forget those who never returned.
Especially compelling is Grandpa Ah-Tong, who rides with an empty space behind him on his bike where his wife of 40 years used to sit. Now her photo sits in his front basket, watching over his road ahead. Before the trip, he flips a coin on her grave to see whether she wants him to ride. “She still wants me to ride even though she’s dead,” he says. “That’s what couples are for.”
Later into the trip, the group reverts to more youthful pursuits: playing in the ocean, eating ice cream, and tasting the forbidden pleasures of the video game arcade. These are typically the dominions of the very young, but the look of glee on a face is the same at any age.
Although the film could use a liberal edit and a less liberal use of music, you would really have to be a Grinch to say that this movie stirred no emotion in your cold, dead heart. The joie de vivre of these old timers is infectious, and their natural charisma and compelling life stories keep the film humming along with the scooters.
The film’s a strong reminder that youth lives in the mind and the heart as much as in the bones and body. It’s also a nudge to call your grandparents -- they would love to hear from you.
Go Grandriders screens on March 15 at 7:20 p.m. at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas (only rush tickets available) and on March 23 at 2 p.m. at Great Star Theater.
Check out all of Hyphen's CAAMFest 2013 reviews.