A sort of scooter-themed companion piece to 2007’s singing-senior-citizens doc “Young@Heart,” “Go Grandriders” offers a warmly ingratiating snapshot of 17 Taiwanese men and women still doggedly riding their motorcycles well into their golden years. Following these high-spirited scooter enthusiasts on their 2007 ride around the island’s perimeter, Hua Tien-hau’s sentimental, conventionally inspiring film offers good-natured insights on the importance — and the difficulty — of living life to the fullest at any age. Having set local B.O. records last year for a Taiwanese documentary release, it should continue to cheer audiences in its limited Los Angeles theatrical run and DVD release.
The film mixes loosely staged interviews with day-by-day coverage of the riders’ often harrowing 13-day, 730-mile journey organized by the Taichung-based Hongdao Senior Citizen’s Welfare Foundation (also one of the film’s producers). Hua doesn’t delve too deeply into the lives of his septuagenarian and octogenarian subjects, seizing instead on individual moments that gently illuminate years of patient, hard-won experience. One 83-year-old man describes the 13-day, 730-mile trip as the fulfillment of a dream he’s had since his youth, and viewers may discern both a sense of triumph and a measure of regret for having lived his younger years too cautiously.
Although the tone is as lighthearted and celebratory as the title, nudged in an upbeat direction by a somewhat over-insistent score, the specter of mortality hangs heavy over the proceedings. The dangers posed by damaged highways (many wrecked by a recent monsoon) and passing cars are self-evident, and more than once the Grandriders find themselves waylaid by medical emergencies. The team’s captain is hospitalized on the second day due to a low hemoglobin count, and his frustration at not being able to complete the ride with his friends is wrenching.
Elsewhere, a husband and wife treat the journey as an opportunity to celebrate their many years together, something scarcely taken for granted in light of her battle with breast cancer. And in one of the more poignant scenes before the trip begins, a man visits the grave of his wife of 40 years and asks her, winningly, if she’ll come along for the ride.
Before and during the trip, the film paints a wide-ranging if surface-level portrait of Taiwanese customs and hobbies, showing the riders variously engaged in tai chi, calligraphy, Buddhist meditation and Christian prayer as they prepare for the challenge ahead. The sense of delight they take in simple tasks and pleasures is at once infectious and a bit repetitive over the 90-minute running time. “They say elders are like kids,” someone notes at one point, a notion the film doesn’t exactly contradict in shots of its subjects at their leisure, taking time out for a bite of ice cream or wandering through a busy night market.
Enhanced by lovely camerawork from Hua and two other lensers, “Go Grandriders” offers a scenic travelogue of the Taiwanese coast; the abundant motorcycle footage, like the film itself, is sweet but unexciting.