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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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Maria Goretti: One of the largest crowds ever assembled for a canonization—250,000—symbolized the reaction of millions touched by the simple story of Maria Goretti. 
<p>She was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer, had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class. </p><p>On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it," she cried out. "It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger. </p><p>She was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good—concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer (she had been in fear of him, but did not say anything lest she cause trouble to his family) and her devout welcoming of Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. She died about 24 hours after the attack. </p><p>Her murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother. </p><p>Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were worked, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, may the medals we wear be constant reminders of the lives they depict. While wearing them, may we be blessed through the saints’ intercession and protected from harm. Help us to continue to spread the messages of Jesus and Mary and the saints and angels.

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