In the new millennium, I once again found ‘70s kung fu films on TV, this time on a local independent TV station. And it was there, amongst the largely awful glut of these films, that I was introduced to the superior Master of the Flying Guillotine.
• In 1730 China, an elderly blind follower of the Ming Dynasty (Kang Kam) vows revenge for the deaths of his two disciples by a one-armed revolutionary and martial arts teacher (Jimmy Wang Yu). The blind man’s weapon of vengeance: the flying guillotine (think a giant yo-yo with a beekeeper’s hat at the end, but with buzzsaw-like teeth lining the inside).
• Meanwhile, a local martial arts school is having an open-invitation kung fu tournament. Martial artists from all over the world enter the tournament (much like Enter the Dragon), including an Indian with extendable arms and a guy who’ll literally whip your ass with his extra-long ponytail.
• Add to this mix a cocky but skilled Thai fighter who eventually sides with the vengeful blind man, and you have several engaging story paths coming to a head (a little guillotine humor there).
Let me start by saying this about Master of the Flying Guillotine: Citizen Kane it ain’t. Guillotine suffers many of the same clichéd flaws of other ‘70s kung fu movies: poor dubbing, comically exaggerated sound effects, superhuman feats like walking on walls and leaping to ridiculous heights, and so on. (To be fair, wall-walking and super-jumping can also be seen in more recent, respected martial arts films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Ong-Bak.)
However, subjectively speaking, Master of the Flying Guillotine may very well be the Citizen Kane of ‘70s kung fu films, for several reasons:
• It has a decent plot, including a revenge theme (a favorite of mine).
• It features well-choreographed action by the legendary Lau Brothers.
• The beheading scenes featuring the flying guillotine are one part cool, one part hilarious.
• The martial arts tournament is crazy to witness; it plays like a rough blueprint for the Mortal Kombat video games and movies that came 20 years later.
• The film’s climax is a tense, clever, cat-and-mouse showdown in a coffin-maker’s shop.
Bottom line: In the cheesy, low-budge world of ‘70s kung fu, Master of the Flying Guillotine is a cut above the rest. Stop me before I pun again.
Original U.S. theatrical trailer:
Not to be confused with 1974’s supposedly awful The Flying Guillotine.
Did you know? Star Jimmy Wang Yu (who also wrote and directed Guillotine) has quite a colorful history:
• In 1981, he was charged with murder in Taiwan, but freed due to lack of evidence.
• In 1999, he refused to sign divorce papers for his second wife because he believed she was unfaithful. Instead, he organized a bust with police and caught his wife in bed with another man (a criminal offense under Taiwanese law).
Chinese, with dubbing/subtitles.
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5).
Will your kids want to watch it?Despite the cheese factor, kids may think that the different martial artists in the tournament are pretty cool to watch, as if they sprung out of one of their video games. Still, people are impaled, beheaded, and beaten to death, so maybe hold off until your kids are able to view the violence as cartoonish and not traumatic.
Will your FilmMother like it?I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who likes ‘70s kung fu movies, so I’m predicting this is one for when you’re alone or hanging with the guys.
Master of the Flying Guillotine
* Director: Jimmy Wang Yu
* Screenwriter: Jimmy Wang Yu
* Stars: Jimmy Wang Yu, Kam Kang, Tsim Po Sham, Chung-erh Lung, Pai Cheng Hau
* MPAA Rating: R (graphic violence)
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