Friday, May 23, 2002


The flying guillotine resembles a scarlet beekeeper’s bonnet, rimmed at the neck with razor-sharp teeth. It is deployed lasso style and, with a quick yank, cuts its victim’s head clean away. And in this 1974 chopsocky cult classic, it’s the weapon of choice of a blind, aged assassin set on destroying our hero, the One Armed Boxer. Master of the Flying Guillotine (a.k.a. One Armed Boxer vs. the Flying Guillotine) stars — and was written and directed by — kung fu legend Wang Yu (a.k.a. Jimmy Wang Yu, the One Armed Boxer and the One Armed Swordsman). Yu’s filmography includes dozens of pictures between 1965 and 1994, but with its nonstop flurry of fighting, ersatz bloodletting and incidental hilarity, this remains his signature work. By virtue of a centerpiece kung fu contest featuring various martial-arts styles both real and fantastically unreal — tiger-crane, monkey style, tornado knives and "braised" hair — the film also popularized the "tournament movie" format imitated by everyone on down to Jean-Claude Van Damme and the creators of Mortal Kombat. The real enjoyment to be had from this reconstructed, newly subtitled version, however, lies in such outlandish moments as the graybeard assassin (whose theme on the soundtrack is a grungy, proto-industrial riff) hurling fist-size firebombs, a Thai boxer’s funky pre-fight dance, and a faux Indian "yoga master" whose own secret weapon is a pair of ludicrous extendable arms. (Hazel-Dawn Dumpert)  FILM * REVIEWS