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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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Oliver Plunkett: The name of today's saint is especially familiar to the Irish and the English—and with good reason. The English martyred Oliver Plunkett for defending the faith in his native Ireland during a period of severe persecution. 
<p>Born in County Meath in 1629, he studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there in 1654. After some years of teaching and service to the poor of Rome he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. Four years later, in 1673, a new wave of anti-Catholic persecution began, forcing Archbishop Plunkett to do his pastoral work in secrecy and disguise and to live in hiding. Meanwhile, many of his priests were sent into exile; schools were closed; Church services had to be held in secret and convents and seminaries were suppressed. As archbishop, he was viewed as ultimately responsible for any rebellion or political activity among his parishioners. 
</p><p>Archbishop Plunkett was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, but his trial was moved to London. After deliberating for 15 minutes, a jury found him guilty of fomenting revolt. He was hanged, drawn and quartered in July 1681. 
</p><p>Pope Paul VI canonized Oliver Plunkett in 1975.</p> American Catholic Blog Evil will always exist, and it will enter our lives unexpectedly and without consent. But how deeply that darkness will touch us is up to us; our will is our own. The dark affects our bodies but not necessarily our souls. Our lives can be taken. But they can also be given.

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