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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

The Grandmaster

By
Joseph McAleer
Source: Catholic News Service


Chen Chang stars in a scene from the movie "The Grandmaster."
Romance and kung-fu fighting may seem like incompatible film ingredients. But in "The Grandmaster" (Weinstein), these unlikely elements meld into the lush and lyrical re-creation of a neglected era of recent Chinese history. Director Wong Kar Wai ("My Blueberry Nights"), who also wrote the screenplay, recounts the true story of the development of the martial arts in early 20th-century China. He offers up the expected, namely, highly stylized fights in slow motion. But, happily, he also presents viewers with more surprising sights: lingering tight close-ups of facial expressions, a raindrop, a flower blossom. The result is an arty, immersive experience resurrecting a lost world where honor, family and tradition were sacrosanct. In 1930s China, the nation was divided regarding the practice of the martial arts. In the south, Ip Man (Tony Leung) claimed supremacy as the "grandmaster" of the "Wing Chun" style of kung fu, which focuses on proper stance and the skillful use of poles and swords. Ip Man sums up kung fu in two words: horizontal and vertical. "If you're wrong, you'll be left lying down. If you're right, you're left standing -- and only the ones who stand have the right to talk." Standing tall in the north, where jumping and kicking are the norm, is grandmaster Gong Baosen (Wang Qingxiang). Before retirement he decides to challenge Ip Man in one last duel (held in the local brothel, which masquerades as a fight club). Gong Baosen loses, much to the humiliation of his daughter, Gong Er (Ziyi Zhang), a fierce fighter herself. Gong Er is ambitious, and a potential contender for grandmaster status, were it not for her gender and the rigid tradition that stands in her way. Even that doesn't stop Gong Er from heading south to challenge Ip Man so that she can restore her father's honor. That's when the sparks really fly. Their intense battle -- akin to a mildly erotic aerial ballet -- is decided only when someone breaks a piece of furniture. When Ip Man lands hard and snaps a stair, he concedes defeat -- but not his heart. Their love is not consummated -- Ip Man is happily married -- but a strong bond of mutual respect and admiration is forged. Time marches on, followed by the Japanese invaders, and then the communists. As their respective worlds crumble, Ip Man and Gong Er face different challenges for survival. Eventually, he becomes a world-renowned teacher of kung fu, and secures his place in history by acquiring a young student of unusual promise by the name of Bruce Lee. In Chinese. Subtitles. The film contains intense but largely bloodless martial arts fighting, brief drug use, a prostitution theme and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. ***** Joseph McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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