"Kung Fooey Theology"
THE GRANDMASTER is a Chinese movie about the middle-age exploits of the martial arts expert from Southern China who trained Bruce Lee. Though beautifully photographed, the storytelling in this biographical drama doesn’t hang together and contains an abhorrent mixed worldview with references to Buddhism, ancestor worship, multiple gods, and mystical martial arts philosophy.
THE GRANDMASTER is a Chinese movie about the middle-age exploits of the martial arts expert from Southern China who trained Bruce Lee. It’s also about his unrequited love for the daughter of the martial arts leader from Northern China. Martial arts movies can be entertaining and sometimes even uplifting. However, this biopic suffers from a reverential tone and a monotone plot structure that sucks the drama out of the story and slows everything down too much. Though the extra-marital love affair is never consummated, the movie still presents it as a positive, albeit doomed, situation. Worse, perhaps, the movie contains an abhorrent combination of references to Buddhism, mystical martial arts philosophy, ancestor worship, and polytheistic paganism. As happened in other parts of the world, such as Ancient Egypt, these amoral, immoral, and false belief systems replaced the original, early monotheistic faith of the Chinese people.
The story to THE GRANDMASTER begins in 1936 in Southern China, in the city of Forshan. A 40-year-old married man from a wealthy family, Ip Man (in Chinese the surname or last name is listed first), has become the top martial arts expert. Gong, the martial arts clan leader in Northern China, learns about Master Ip. Gong has come to Forshan to learn about Southern styles of Kung Fu, the common colloquial name for Chinese martial arts.
Gong tests Ip Man to see if he’s worthy enough to become the champion of the Southern styles of Kung Fu. Man’s own style of fighting, wing chun, proves more than worthy. However, Gong lets his upstart daughter, Er, challenge Man to a fight. The fight takes place in the local brothel where all the martial artists gather (though some of the fighters, including Man, don’t partake of the sensual delights in the brothel).
Man and Er agree that, if anything gets broken in their fight, she will be the winner. Er wins when their fight travels onto a staircase and Man accidentally breaks one of the wooden boards. During the fight, it’s clear that romantic feelings develop between the two, even though Man is married with children. Man promises to travel up North to visit Er and learn about Northern kung fu styles. The Japanese invasion of China, however, interrupts those plans. Will Ip Man and Er Gon ever see one another again?
The rest of THE GRANDMASTER shows how Ip Man ended up in Hong Kong, separated from his family in Communist China forever. It also details what happens to Er Gong and her father during World War II and after the Communists took control of everything in China but Hong Kong and Singapore. The movie doesn’t identify the new communist government in China as communist, however, though that’s the reason why Man never sees his family again. Eventually, Man establishes a kung fu school in Hong Kong, which attracts the attention of one young boy named Bruce Lee.
It’s hard to make a biography interesting onscreen unless you focus on one individual story or one theme in a person’s life. THE GRANDMASTER is shot in a very elegant, beautiful manner, but it tries to tell too many stories. The reverential tone it has toward Ip Man and kung fu in general also deprives the movie of dramatic energy.
The filmmakers, led by acclaimed director Wong Kar Wai or Kar Wai Wong, try to solve this problem by focusing on Eastern religion and philosophy, including martial arts ideology. However, the movie presents this theme as a pagan mishmash of Buddhism, ancestor worship, martial arts mysticism, and references to gods, faith, and fate. This kind of pagan syncretism millennia ago supplanted the ancient Chinese belief in one God, whom they called Shang-ti, which means “Celestial Ruler.” The movie also has some references to the Chinese Heaven, but it’s not a biblical view. A line near the end of the movie concludes that “the gods” determine our fate. Despite this, the movie’s final shot has Ip Man asking the audience directly, “What’s your style?” His question has more on its mind than just having one martial arts style. It also means what’s your own meaning and purpose in life.
There is no meaning or purpose apart from Jesus Christ, however. Only when you accept Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can you find true meaning and true purpose. Those who love Jesus Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and lusts and display the fruit of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-24).
(PaPaPa, FRFRFR, B, RH, L, VV, S, A, DD, MM) Very strong syncretistic pagan worldview containing references to Buddhism, making vows to Buddha, ancestor worship, polytheistic references to gods, references to fate, and mystical martial arts philosophy, with some moral references to honor, integrity, and opposing collaboration with Japan during World War II, but the tyrannical takeover of China by the Communist Party is not even noted, despite the horrors it committed against the Chinese people; a light amount of foul language with one “f” word and one a** word; strong martial arts fighting with kicks, punches, and blocking punches and kicks, with some blood in one scene when man’s face gets scarped a little by a moving train, and woman coughs up blood after fighting; no depicted sex but men congregate in a brothel to do business and there’s an unrequited love affair between a married middle-age man and a young woman during a 17-year period; no nudity; alcohol use; smoking and character becomes addicted to opium and is shown using it a couple times; and, factional rivalry, organized street fighting, jealousy, pride, revenge, and a reference to luck in one scene.
THE GRANDMASTER is a Chinese movie about the middle-aged exploits of the martial arts expert from Southern China who trained Bruce Lee. Master Ip must deal with the intense rivalry between martial arts schools in 1936 and 37. Then, the Japanese invade China in 1938, but Master Ip refuses to collaborate. Next, Master Ip must flee Communist China for Hong Kong, but the Communists close the border and he’s separated from his wife and remaining children forever. All through this, Master Ip has an unrequited love for the young daughter of an older martial arts expert.
The plot to THE GRANDMASTER isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. It tries to tell too many stories. In addition, the movie has a reverential tone toward its protagonist and Chinese martial arts that deprives it of dramatic energy. The extra-marital love affair is never consummated, but the movie presents it as a positive, though doomed, situation. Finally, the movie contains a pagan combination of references to Buddhism, mystical martial arts philosophy, ancestor worship, multiple gods, and fate. The Non-Christian worldview in THE GRANDMASTER is abhorrent.