April 22, 2009

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975)

FOLLOWING THE MASSIVE SUCCESS of Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon in 1973, the remainder of the decade saw an explosion of kung fu films come out of Hong Kong. These films played in theaters and drive-ins across America during the ‘70s, then landed airtime on American TV in the ‘80s thanks to programs like USA Network’s Kung Fu Theatre:

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.

Tiiiiickle, tickle-tickle-tickle...

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)

Buy this movie for less at Half.com >>


James said...

One can never have too much 70's Kung Fu to watch. I had never heard of this one, and with Mrs. LIAYF not likely to join me, I will have to have patience like Grasshopper but I will watch it.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow...Kung Fu Theater...I spent many a weekend in front of the teevee in the 80s watching that and the WWF. Life was so simple then.

MotFG is a classic in the world of chop suey cinema that I haven't watched in years...to the Netflix! I must revisit!

I wonder if kids of the new millennium can enjoy these old movies as much as we did? I sure hope so...it can't all be Fast And The Furious 09, right?

KeegsMom said...

Oh, there's where you're wrong! Keeg's Mom here, and I loved this movie! Ok, I confess, I wouldn't have watched it if it weren't for my husband, but still.

We just watched "7 Grand Masters," which is pretty kid-safe (one scene is a bit crude but ...), from '78, I believe. Non-stop action, and highly recommended!

Big Monster Cinema said...

Very nice site and awesome reviews! I agree, after Bruce lee's death the genre went haywire! The 70's did produce some great kung fu films, but some were just cookie cutter copies.

A new fan


joe said...

Never was a Kung Fu movie fan, so I'll have to pass on this one. Unless there's nudity...

Keith said...

I love all those awesome 1970's Kung Fu movies. I've never seen this one though. I'll have to check it out. Hope you had a good weekend.

Coop said...

I love this movie. It was such a huge influence on video games like "Street Fighter," "Mortal Kombat," etc... Everytime I catch this on cable, I have a rule that I have to watch it. I don't geek out often, but "Master of the Flying Guillotine" definitely makes me spas-out.

Jim @ CoolStuffForDads.com said...

I thought it was interesting how they highlighted the special effects, was that in reference to the one guy's really long arms??


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