Title: Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975)
Director: Jimmy Wang Yu
I find it interesting that Master of the Flying Guillotine, one of the most memorable Kung Fu movies ever made, was not produced by the famous Shaw Brothers Studios but by an independent studio called First Films. I guess, like many of the Kung Fu heroes in these movies, the underdog ended up being better then the “master” at least in this case.
If you ever see this guy in the distance..run to the hills!
Master of the Flying Guillotine tells the story of a Monk out for revenge. This Monk, who is also a Master at using the deadly Flying Guillotine, has just received a message letting him know that two of his best pupils have just been killed by the famous One Armed Boxer. On the message, the fallen pupils ask their master to avenge their death, a request he is very willing to comply with. Problem is, the Master of the Flying Guillotine is a blind man (a quite deadly blind man I might add) so since he can’t identify any one armed men visually, he plans to go around town killing every one armed man that he hears about during his search. The One Armed Boxer is known across the land for his excellent martial arts skills, but will he be ready for when the Master of the Flying Guillotine finds him? It will be titanic duel of master vs. master! To the death!
The story behind this film is quite interesting for various reasons. One of them is that since this film was an independent production, the original film prints were not maintained in the best way possible, as a result, the few prints that have survived across time are not in the best conditions. A similar situation happened with Fritz Lang’s silent film Metropolis (1927). Metropolis is a film that you never feel you are watching in its complete form, because new reels of the film keep popping up every few decades. Sometimes, a private collector will have an old print of the film that has scenes that no else has seen for decades, and so, a new version of the film pops up with new scenes, making for a more complete experience. Recently a couple of more minutes of Metropolis were found and added, and now we have a more complete edition of the film available. But I'm pretty sure even this "Complete Metropolis" version that is coming out is missing some scenes as well. Same type of situation occurred with Master of the Flying Guillotine. The version that is currently available is made up of various different film prints. The resulting film varies in quality, but is certainly the most complete version of the film you are apt to see. The film looks pristine and perfect in certain moments, while suddenly the film stock might change color and look horrible. Sometimes the film is dubbed, sometimes it will be spoken in Mandarin with English subtitles. Still, even with these imperfections in film quality, the dvd that is available from Patfhfinder Pictures (the one I saw) is in good enough quality. Most of the film looks great, with the exception of a few scenes where the color looks like it’s going to fade away. But this does not happen often, you should be able to enjoy the film just fine.
He might not see you, but he can certainly hear you!
Another thing that makes this films story interesting is that Jimmy Wang Yu directed it. Jimmy Wang Yu is an actor who made a couple of films with the Shaw Brothers, most notably; I remember him from the One Armed Swordsman (1967) and Return of the One Armed Swordsman (1969). Jimmy Wang Yu sort of branched out on his own and decided to make his own films. On this one he took over directing and acting duties at the same time. The result is this amazing classic we are talking about today. Jimmy Wang Yu made some great films with the Shaw Brothers, but I’m actually glad he went out and did his own thing, and I’m glad to see that the result was so good. In my opinion this film is better then some Shaw Brothers films in a couple of ways. One of them being that when they needed to shoot a fight scene that took place in an exterior, they went out to a real location and shot the scene in real exteriors instead of shooting the whole film in fake, cramped looking sets. One problem I always have with some of the Shaw Brothers films (legendary as they may be) is that you can always tell that they were shot inside of a studio because the sky and the clouds look so fake. The way some of the scenes are lighted on the Shaw Brothers productions, you just know they are inside of a studio. This is not the case with Master of the Flying Guillotine. If a scene took place in an exterior, they shot in a real exterior, on location. I loved that about this film because it gives it an extra level of realism, this was something that was missing from many Shaw Brothers films.
The One Armed Boxer, also known as Jimmy Wang Yu, the films director.
Master of the Flying Guillotine is an interesting kind of film because it uses two characters that has appeared on previous films on their own and united them in one film. That’s right, this film is kind of similar to Alien vs. Predator (2004) or Freddy Vs. Jason (2003) in that way. Actually, the films original title is Master of the Flying Guillotine Vs. The One Armed Boxer. It took the Master of the Flying Guillotine, a character who had previously appeared on a film called The Flying Guillotine (1975) and the One Armed Boxer from a film of the same name and united them. So it’s gimmicky in that way, but at the same time, it’s also a really well made film. It wasn’t just a film riding on a gimmick; Jimmy Wang Yu actually set out to make a great Kung Fu film.
This movie has that classical Kung Fu storyline where various martial arts schools are called to participate in a tournament, to prove which one is the best. A part of the film completely takes part in the tournament, with these outlandish characters doing their own special kind of Kung Fu. These scenes are a highlight of the film. One Indian contender stretches out his arms and legs during a fight! Another one fights like a monkey! We get a great variety of fighters in this part of the film. It also has another element we see a lot in Kung Fu movies: the main character is crippled somehow. Don’t know why they loved doing this on their films, but a lot of these Kung Fu movies make their main character crippled or handicapped somehow. For examples of this check out films like Chang Cheh’s The Crippled Avengers (1978) where the five main characters are crippled in five different ways. The many One Armed Swordsman or One Armed Boxer movies are also good examples of these types of films, or the Zatoichi films where the main character is a blind swordsman. On Master of the Flying Guillotine, both of the main characters are crippled, The Monk is blind and The Swordsman is missing an arm. Interesting thing about these films is that the characters always turn their disability into their advantage, and suddenly they are that much more powerful because they learned to overcome their handicap. Some American films have also used this plot device in films like the failed comic book franchise Daredevil (2003) and Blind Fury (1989) with Rutger Hauer playing a blind swordsman.
Now you know where all those characters from Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat came from!
This is an awesome movie that has this deadly, dreadful, serious aura to it. Its main villain oozes of evil and death! I know I had already recommended it in my Top Ten Kung Fu Movies You Should See Before You Die blog post a while back, but I figured I’d never given it a proper review, so I hope you guys enjoyed my take on it. There is a whole bunch of these films with the Flying Guillotine theme, I’m going to try and find them and review them. Look forward to a couple more Kung Fu Klassics being reviewed in the next couple of days; I am on a Kung Fu Kick and I’m enjoying the hell out of it! Stay tuned!
Rating: 5 out of 5