Director: Yang Li-Chou
Language: Chinese with English subtitles
Running time: 108 minutes
Release: May 2011
Studio: Backstage Studio Co, Ltd
Young at Heart: Grandma Cheerleaders is a spirited documentary by award-winning film maker Yang Li-chou. The film follows a group of elderly men and women cheerleaders (one is even 88 years of age!) as they train in pursuit of performing at the World Games in Taiwan.
The style of the film is very unassuming, but that’s part of what makes it so real. As you follow the characters, you can’t help but feel that you’re behind the camera, an actual participant in the events. All of the characters, despite their advanced age, are surprisingly sharp, and they provide excellent dialogue throughout the film.
If you are prone to shed a tear or two when a film tugs at your heart strings, then you better have a tissue box handy. Not surprisingly, the characters struggle not only with their aging bodies, but with the problems that arrive as a result of long life. Whether it’s one man reminiscing about his deceased wife, or a woman fighting back advanced stages of cancer, these individuals have problems far greater than performing at the World Games.
And yet, part of why the film works is that it juxtaposes this absurdity of elderly cheerleaders with the themes of aging and death. As you watch them stumble through their choreography, their struggle to nail the routine becomes elevated far beyond that. Cheerleading brings purpose back into their world. Instead of resigning themselves to death, these men and women set their sights on a goal, and that pursuit breaths in them new life.
Young at Heart: Grandma Cheerleaders is not without its comedic moments. They are, in fact, abundantly present. For one, you see old Asian men perform in drag. And of course, there is Mr. Ding, who provides consistent laughter with his quick wit and his attempts to find a new woman. Every so often, the film breaks from its observer role and shows Mr. Ding speaking to the audience, introducing a Chinese proverb. His delivery was sometimes funny, and always pertinent. There is also a scene where a professional body builder shows them posing techniques. I’ll let you imagine the reaction of the old men and women.
However, this film definitely isn’t for everyone; for some, the idea of watching old people practice as cheerleaders will lose its appeal as the film goes on. Also, many people simply do not like to watch movies with subtitles. So, unless you’re fluent in Chinese, you will want to steer clear if you can’t read and watch at the same time. Additionally, it’s not particularly a movie that needs to be seen in theaters. In fact, I think it could be better enjoyed at home while on the couch, nestling with the partner you hope to grow old with.
In the end, this is one of the most endearing films I’ve seen a long time. Whether you catch it in a theater, or wait for it on DVD, I’m sure that these Grandma Cheerleaders will have you cheering for them.