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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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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Let us never tire, therefore, of seeking the Lord—of letting ourselves be sought by him—of tending over our relationship with him in silence and prayerful listening. Let us keep our gaze fixed on him, the center of time and history; let us make room for his presence within us.

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