They cheer, sing, and shake their booties, but most of the time can’t quite manage to keep a beat. Forty elderly cheerleaders are the bouncy subjects of veteran documentary filmmaker Yang Li-chou’s (楊力州) latest work, Young at Heart: Grandma Cheerleaders (青春啦啦隊).
Shortly after making The Long Goodbye (被遺忘的時光), a tear-inducing documentary about senile dementia, Yang aimed his lens at the buoyant side of old age. In the film, he follows a group of elderly cheerleaders — the average age is 70 — who spend months preparing for a once-in-a-lifetime performance at the World Games 2009 in Kaohsiung. With smooth editing and animated camera work, the lively, fast-paced documentary spins an engaging yarn that is packed with laughs.
Hsing Chuang (邢莊), an 88-year-old grandmother, is the oldest in the group, but has the high spirits and energy of an 18-year-old. Grandpa Ting (丁), 86 years young, is a great grandson of Ting Jih-chang (丁日昌), an eminent official and scholar during the Qing Dynasty. He likes to use proverbs when he talks and looks particularly coquettish when performing in drag.
The friendship between the team and the director, who is often seen conversing with his subjects, adds a personal, intimate feel to the work.
Noted for his narrative-driven style, Yang is adept at weaving together dramas, conflicts and tension to create a fluid story line. In Grandma Cheerleaders, emotions build as the team members work hard to plan their act as the big show draws near, and there are plenty of comic moments along the way. One such incident involves a young body builder trying to teach the senior gentlemen how to pose amid giggles from the ladies. There are also times for sober reflection when the team members face loneliness, disease and the specter of death.
Young at Heart: Grandma Cheerleaders
Directed by: Yang Li-chou (楊力州)
Starring: Grandpa Ting (丁) as himself, Hsing Chuang (邢莊) as herself, Grandpa Jung-kuei (榮貴) as himself, Lin Su-lan (林素蘭) as herself
Language: Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles
Running time: 105 minutes
Taiwan release: Today
The documentary successfully breaks the stereotype of how our elders live by focusing on senior citizens enjoying the sunset years of their lives.
Grandma Cheerleaders is a good example of socially responsible filmmaking. Profits from the film will be donated to United Way of Taiwan (聯合勸募). The nonprofit organization will use 80 percent of the donation for care of the elderly care, 10 percent will go to helping children and another 10 percent to supporting documentary filmmaking. For more information about the social welfare project, visit www.unitedway.org.tw/oldya.