MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976)
Written and Directed by Jimmy Wang Yu
Produced by Wong Cheuk Tan
Cinematography by Chiu Yao Hu
Music by Chen Hsun Chi
Fight Choreography by Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing
Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Kam Kong, Lung Fei, Lau Kar Wing, Doris Chung, Cheng Tien Chi, Phil Kwok, Jack Long, Wang Li, Robert Tai
Video: Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono 2.0
Chapter Stops: 24
What you can you say about this masterpiece that hasnt already been said? This film may not be Jimmy Wang Yus best film overall, but it is absolutely the best film hes ever directed. A disgruntled Wang Yu left the Shaw Brothers studios (following the success of the classic ONE ARM BOXER) due to creative differences. He then went to work for rival studio Golden Harvest for a short stint before joining First Films, a company only more than willing to let Wang Yu contribute both behind and in front of the camera. In short, with First Films Wang Yu had total control. MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE was conceived as a sequel to ONE ARMED BOXER, and Wang Yu rounded up the same cast and crew from his previous directorial effort, RETURN OF THE CHINESE BOXER (1975). He got the esteemed character actor Lung Fei (BEACH OF THE WARGODS, GREEN JADE STATUETTE, STORY IN TEMPLE RED LILY) and the hulking Taekwondo expert Kam Kong (BLAZING TEMPLE, IRON MONKEY, THE LEGENDARY STRIKE) to play key roles. Like nearly all of Wang Yus films where he has creative input, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE features a lengthy fighting tournament. Watch for early appearances by Jack Long (7 GRANDMASTERS, MYSTERY OF CHESS BOXING, THE UNBEATEN 28), Phil Kwok (FIVE DEADLY VENOMS, MASKED AVENGERS, KID WITH THE GOLDEN ARM), Lau Kar Wing (KING BOXER, KUNG FU PUNCH OF DEATH, SHAOLIN MANTIS), Cheng Tien-Chi (CHINESE SUPER NINJAS, BLAST OF THE IRON PALM, HOUSE OF TRAPS), Robert Tai (INVINCIBLE SHAOLIN, CHINATOWN KID, INCREDIBLE KUNG FU MISSION) and Wang Li (FLAG OF IRON, TEN TIGERS OF KWANGTUNG, USURPERS OF THE EMPERORS POWER) as participants. In 1977, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE played in American Grindhouses and Drive-ins, much to the delight of Kung Fu lovers everywhere. After the fall of the Drive-in circuit, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE became a jewel in the bootlegging underground, as the movie possesses tremendous cross-over appeala perfect introduction to the madness of martial arts filmmaking for genre outsiders. Perhaps that is why Pathfinder Pictures choose MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE to undergo the restoration process and book it around college campuses and on midnight showings across the U.S. Now, Pathfinder Pictures finally releases MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE on DVD, uncut for the first time. They also enclosed just enough extras to truly justify this as a MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE ULTIMATE EDITION.
Fung Sheng Wu Chi (Kam Kong) is a blind master of the Flying Guillotine (an aerial weapon which beheads its victims) in the employ of the corrupt Ching Dynasty. When the One Armed Boxer (Jimmy Wang Yu) dispatches Fungs two disciples in self defense, the Master of the Flying Guillotine swears to avenge his compatriots. Meanwhile, the One Armed Boxer is teaching martial arts at a nearby school. He demonstrates to the students the Flying technique, which allows the person who masters it to defy gravity. The class stands in awe while the One Arm Boxer gives a display. Suddenly, a messenger bursts into the school and announces that Teacher Wus Tiger Claw school is sponsoring a no-holds-barred fighting tournament. Word of this event quickly spreads and soon martial artists from all over Asia are turning up on the doorsteps of Teacher Wus school. Meanwhile, Fung is traveling through China in the guise of a monk, vowing to kill any one armed men that he comes across. Fung also buys off some of the tournament entrants with low morals to assist him in finding and destroying the One Armed Boxer.
The One Armed Boxer refuses to participate in the competition, but he attends it as a participant. He observes all the various clashes of martial arts styles and watches Teacher Wus daughter (Doris Lung) defeat her stronger male opponent. When Teacher Wu suggests that One Armed Boxer join the fracas, he politely refuses and mumbles something about Kung Fu not being used honorably. He dismisses himself and heads back to the school, and moments later Fung shows up looking for the One Armed Boxer and disrupts the tournament. Teacher Wu is first to try and put Fung in his place, but he is no match for the fury of the Flying Guillotine. Teacher Wus daughter witnesses her fathers death, and instantly pledges herself to take down Fung no matter the cost. Fung uses some strange fire pellets to burn down the Tiger Claw school and heads into the village to find the One Armed Boxer. Fungs enhanced senses lead him the school and he gets the jump on the One Armed Boxer, who can only run away from the fury of the deadly device. The One Armed Boxer realizes that mere combat is not enough to destroy the superhuman Fung, so he teams up with Master Wus daughter to come up with a plan to kill Fung. The plan involves him purchasing a coffin shop! But before the One Armed Boxer has a chance to trap Fung, he must deal with Fungs deadly minions, including a Japanese samurai (Lung Fei), a Thai boxer (Chi Fu Chiang), and a Yoga master (Lau Kar Wing).
This 90 minutes of martial arts adrenaline is written and directed by Jimmy Wang Yu, whose vision and creativity overshadows his martial arts ability. He knew he was limited in this capacity, and he was sure to surround himself with the best the genre has to offer (like Liu Chia Liang, Phil Kwok, Kam Kong, Lung Fei, Robert Tai, Jack Long, Liu Chia Yung, etc.) ensuring that MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE was something truly special. During this period, Wang Yu was experimenting with supernatural elements in many of his films and this over-the-top surreal element gives the picture a shot in the arm, and combined with the creepy score and bizarre sound effects, depicts MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE as something truly unique. Though the plot is somewhat thin, Wang Yu comes up with some great dialog and characterizations. His alter ego, the One Armed Boxer, is actually a Han rebel with strong spiritual belief in the martial arts. Wang Yu plays his role as quiet, cerebral, and determined. Kam Kongs character is totally blind, but due to his enhanced senses he is actually a superior martial artist than a man with sight. Kam Kongs portrayal as a blind man is quite unique, and we see him wiggling his thick eyebrows and flexing his ears to detect sound of motion. Fungs appearances are accompanied by some wonderfully surreal noises which instantly fill the audience with awe and dread. The success of MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE made a star out of Kam Kong.
Jimmy Wang Yus script also calls for many supporting players to serve as fodder for the tournament scene (which takes up about 30 minutes of screen time) with each fighter representing a different nation or style of martial arts (Wang Yu did this before with RETURN OF THE CHINESE BOXER). So we get to see Karate vs Kung Fu, Praying Mantis vs. Snake, Monkey vs. Tiger Claw, etc. MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE is choreographed by Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing (2 of the best choreographers in Hong Kong ever) and they do a tremendous job displaying each style in all its glory. Most of the supporting players show up in the tournament, and dont really deliver any break-out performances, except for Lung Wei as the Japanese fighter named Yakuma. Some subplots are never followed up on, like Doris Lungs revenge angle, but a movie like this needs dominating action sequences and Wang Yu and company really deliver in this area! Though it aint the first movie to feature the legendary weapon of the title, MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE is the best movie of its type, even upstaging the nearly martial arts-less Shaw Brothers epic, THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1974).
Pathfinder Pictures not only restores MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE to its original length (an additional ten minutes) but fully re-masters the film elements resulting in a beautiful, pristine, 2.35.1 widescreen presentation. Reportedly, years went into restoring the original negative, and it really shows. There is not a nic or scratch to be found anywhere. The colors are rich and full, with the palette displaying mostly browns, blues, olives, and reds. The image is truly sharp resulting in true picture depth which makes the action scenes all that more encompassing. The detail level is excellent, rendering the desert and mountainous locations with crisp precision. Kudos to Pathfinder for displaying the optional English subtitles in an orange-yellow hue, which makes them easy to read no matter what the background may be. This is a great restoration job performed by Pathfinder Pictures and it is a step above even Crash Cinemas best efforts. If the Celestial Pictures Shaw Brothers re-masters look as good as these, then we are all going to be in Kung Fu heaven.
Pathfinder Pictures includes two audio options in Dolby Digital Mono 2.0; the original Mandarin or the English dubbed version. Both tracks are acoustically pleasing, but there is something you should know about the English dubbed version. When MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE was released in the U.S., the movie was edited down and then dubbed. Pathfinder Pictures were unable to re-dub the missing footage, and fill in the gaps here using English subtitles. This is actually very interesting, because when you see the subtitles show up, you know you viewing a scene youve never watched before. The subtitles act as a flag for the unseen footage. The secret of MASTER OF THE FLYING Guillotines success is in the soundtrack, and Pathfinder Pictures does a great job restoring the audio elements as well. There is no distortion, analog hiss, or background noise that plagued previous video versions. The bizarre sound effects and haunting electronic score take center stage for the best audio presentation yet. Both the Mandarin and English dialog take center stage in the soundfield, with some very slight reverb attached. Due to the fantastic nature of MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, the soundtrack is full of additional sound effects not associated with typical martial arts films. Besides the usual chops, blocks, and kicks and the oofffs and aahhhs of the pulverized human victims, the sound effects include the additional noises produced by the nasty Flying Guillotine, birds flapping their wings, explosions, and weapons clanging against other weapons, etc.
From the Special Features menu, you can view three different trailers:1. The original 1976 Mandarin language theatrical trailer
2. The original 1977 English language theatrical trailer
3. The restored 2001 English language Pathfinder Pictures trailer
All three trailers are great, but I really mark out for number 2.
There are also some nicely written bios for:
* Jimmy Wang Yu
* Lau Kar LeungThere is also a production gallery consisting of 13 behind the scenes photographs, cast shots, and international ad campaigns (with artwork).
Dont forget the audio commentary by Wade Major and Andy Klein, two mainstream film critics who give this movie its due, and conclude the importance of MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE in the evolution of the Hong Kong cinema. Its obvious that their knowledge of the genre is limited, yet they give a good breakdown of the production and the main cast members.
MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE is a true classic, featuring all the best stars and choreographers the genre has to offer. Jimmy Wang Yu turns in a superb direction, and successfully takes you back in time to the Ching Dynasty. Why he did not continue directing is beyond me; technically and creatively he knows his stuff, and he would have been a perfect candidate to take over for the ailing Chang Cheh. I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to Pathfinder Pictures for the excellent restoration job they performed, for putting an old school classic back in theaters, and for releasing probably the best old-school DVD weve seen yet. You can thank them by clicking the link at the bottom of this page and purchasing their magnificent DVD. Not only will you get to see this classic for yourselves, but the success of this title will send a message to the folks at Pathfinder Picturesa message that says we want more, bring us some more restored martial arts classics!
-- Tony Mustafa
MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE is available from HKFlix.com