Film Review: Go Grandriders

The highest-grossing documentary in its native Taiwan, this account of a team of spirited seniors moves the heart, but the mind demands more.

Movies—like life, especially these days—are usually a celebration of youth, so it’s refreshing to encounter Hua Tien-hao’s Go Grandriders, which focuses on a bunch of 80-somethings who decide to traverse their home island of Taiwan via motorcycles on a two-week odyssey. The team’s nurse says, “Two-thirds of you shouldn’t even be here!”—riddled as they are with expected health problems like cancer, high blood pressure, heart ailments and deafness Yet there’s no discounting the sheer power of human will, and these 17 wonderful geezers are determined to make it through the 730-mile ride.

Adversity hits them hard early when their captain, an 87-year-old former policeman, is hospitalized twice with internal bleeding. His supportive riders visit him in recovery and he breaks down, filled with shame at what he perceives as a personal failing. The stereotype of stoic, emotionless Asians is shattered here and in other parts of the film, in the many tearful, genuinely moving scenes of these uncomplicated people inevitably facing their own limitations and past.

That past, indissolubly aligned with Taiwan’s shifting history, from Japan’s occupation of the island from 1895 to 1945 (which was actually accepted by many natives) and the country’s change to a post-World War II Nationalist role under Chiang Kai-shek, is featured in the backstories of a man who actually trained kamikaze pilots and a former Nationalist soldier. They are comrades on this journey but jovially reminisce how at one time they were enemies, sworn to kill each other.

I wish Tien-hao had given us more of the riders’ personal histories, as his film becomes a tad superficial and repetitive, with endless shots of those motorcycles wending their way down the sometimes perilous, traffic-heavy highways, and too many effusive observations about how no one is too old to pursue their dreams. The Grandriders’ number includes one woman, a cancer survivor, who makes the trip as a sort of second honeymoon with her husband, and should have enjoyed more focus. Also, although seeing the entire island is their overall mission, not much of it is actually viewed in the film.

Once the ride is victoriously finished, we get to see the riders’ real lives and subsequent, joyous reunions which, a little too late, give Go Grandriders a deeper texture which it largely lacks.