Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kant Miss Kung Fu Klassics: Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975)

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 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.

Best part of this film for me though is the villain. He is a monk that works for the Ching Dynasty, killing rebels. Which is another interesting aspect of the film, its sort of the rebels vs. the oppressive evil government type of deal, which by the way is a reoccurring theme on these old Kung Fu movies. The Monk is an expert at using the Flying Guillotine a weapon that has a guillotine attached to a chain. He hurls it through the air, the guillotine lands on your head, he yanks the chain and then it’s off with your head! The character is so effective, that it kind of freaks you out every time he appears. He is so deadly that you kind of feel as if death has just walked into a scene whenever he appears. To top things off, the guy is blind! But that doesn’t stop him from being just as deadly as if he wasn’t. I think that what helped the film the most though was its soundtrack. It’s a very techno thing, with beats and sounds, it kind of felt like a John Carpenter film at times. Every time the monk appears, you hear these shrieks and sounds and beats that makes his whole appearance feel like something out of a horror movie for me. The films soundtrack was very effective in that way. The hero of the film, the One Armed Boxer is also a great character. He uses his intellect and martial arts ability to stop the villain, plus, he is awesome because he gets to kick ass with just one arm! He has that amazing punch that will knock the hell out of anybody, when he displays it, he should get you clapping and cheering with glee.

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

Master of the Flying GuillotineMaster of the Flying GuillotineThe 5 Deadly Venoms


venoms5 said...

The operatic look of most of the Shaw productions follows the old Hollywood style of filmmaking. I call it the 'WIZARD OF OZ' effect. It's both intentional and economical as there's no worries about weather conditions and such things as that getting in the way of filming. There are a lot of Shaw pictures that utilize both exteriors and interiors and even some that were shot totally outside. They were releasing 40 to 50 movies a year and had directors shooting films for them in Taiwan as well.

I haven't seen it in a while, but the original FLYING GUILLOTINE (1974) was shot mostly outside save for scenes that take place in the assassins lair and the Emperor's chambers. The original film took a year to complete and was a huge hit around the world especially on the grindhouse circuit.

The original film came out in February of '75 and Wang Yu's flick hit middle of the following year. The original isn't even a kung fu movie. It's mostly a dramatic/horror feature about a group of trained assassins who kill rebels for the emperor. When the group begin betraying one another, the best assassin in the group decides he wants out and is framed as a traitor against the emperor. He ends up going on the run while his sworn brothers go after him to take his head.

There's very little fighting and mostly heads coming off. Even a (fake) dog gets his head taken off. Some 25 decapitations are in the film. Must be a record. The seriously troubled sequel that started production in 1976 was the martial arts film the first film wasn't.

The Shaw's were the only company at the time that could afford to construct sets of that caliber. During that time, they had the largest privately owned film studio in the world.

Wang Yu left Shaw's on bad terms and he tried to capitalize on there product at every turn with quick knock offs like FURIOUS SLAUGHTER (1972) and POINT THE FINGER OF DEATH (1976). The reason so many indy films shot outside is because they couldn't afford to build anything. According to some of the actors, they didn't even get paid with money, but with food or clothing.

Very few indy companies survived past one or two movies. In fact, a ton of indy features were picked up and distributed by Shaw Brothers since some of the talent pool would be allowed to star in movies for other companies under certain guidelines.

First Films, Goldig and Seasonal are three of the biggest indy companies that come to mind. Hong Hwa, too, I'd say.

Franco Macabro said...

I saw a DVD that has like five different Guillotine related movies in it, but I was afraid they wouldnt look too good so I didnt buy it. Thought I would ask you first before purchasing it!

Yeah, that 'Wizard of Oz' effect as you call it, I've grown to accept it as part of a Kung Fu film, but I prefer it when they shoot on location, makes everything look more realistic. I liked how they achieved it on Master of the Flying GUillotine. Those scenes that take place on the Monks home on top of these cool looking mountains, in a little hut in the middle of nowhere is more convincing to me.

BUt I see where that would come in handy when you are filming so many films at the same time! Also, as you mentioned Shaw Bros. used exteriors a lot, they used them in Return of the One Armed Swordsman, during the final confrontation in that castle!

Im extremely curious to see that original Flying Guillotine movie, even more so when you mention that it has more of a horror vibe, which I kind of also picked up on MASTER OF, there's a lot of scenes that take place during the night, and the Monk is kind of like a Horror character, hell bent on killing everyone in his way.

Thanks for the info, as always!

venoms5 said...

I'm different in that respect, Fran. I much prefer the look of the sets. I love it. The set design is so meticulous and it's amazing with so many movies being at made at once (the studio was so big, over a dozen movies could be shot simultaneously without interruption) the level of quality achieved, even in the worst Shaw pictures. A lot of indy features tried to emulate the Shaw sets, but it just isn't the same.

I guess it's because I've seen hundreds of these movies and so many of them, as in the indy films, look so bland to me. They all have interchangeable locations--a mountain plain, a valley, a grassy field and that's pretty much it, or the occasional squalid village.

The Weinstein's own the two official Shaw GUILLOTINE movies. I assume they will making their way to DVD before long. The original scared me as a kid and it still has a creepy feel to it. Ho Meng Hua was very successful in creating a sense of dread regarding the weapon that it could get you pretty much anywhere and nothing could counter it, at least not very successfully.

The Shaw's ripped off their own movie with the exploitation actioner DRAGON MISSILE, a film that even began production under the title 'The Guillotine'.

Director Ho also ripped off his original movie with another exploitation action flick, THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY (1978) aka THE BLOODY HIBISCUS. It's got Flying Guillotine's, naked female assassins, gore and an army of Lo Lieh lookalikes!

venoms5 said...

I'll be posting some promo materials for DRAGON MISSILE and maybe FG 2 in an upcoming Shaw post so I think you may find those of interest.

Franco Macabro said...

What are the two official Shaw Brothers Guillotine movies names?
And yeah, I do hope they get a dvd release sometime soon, Im very curious to check those out.

I have seen some of the cheaper Kung Fu flicks (one that comes to mind is The Crippled Masters) and I know what you mean about the sameness of the exterior backgrounds.

But on Master of the Flying Guillotine, I think they went out of their way to choose special locations, like that mountain where The Monk lives in, so isolated, rocky, and filled with myst.

I also liked that they filmed the whole tournament on exteriors, with all those stormy looking clouds, gave it a realistic feel.

But I agree, the exterior feel didnt always work, specially in the cheaper films.

That horror feeling was one of the things I enjoyed the most about Master of the Flying Guillotine, you kind of feel like the Monk is Jason or Michael Myers searching for his pray or something.

Hey, but campy sets and all, I love those Shaw Brother's movies! Dont get me wrong there!

venoms5 said...

FLYING GUILLOTINE (1974) and FLYING GUILLOTINE 2 (1977) are the two Shaw Brothers movies. The HK DVD's are both OOP now, but occasionally they show up on ebay. The legit Taiwanese DVD is here...

Incidentally, famous Shaw choreographer/director, Liu Chia Liang did the choreography here. At the time, Liu had a falling out with Chang Cheh in Taiwan shooting MARCO POLO (1975), so Liu left Chang's camp to direct solo. In the interim I assume he had a little time on his hands to help out on this indy movie. Some of the venoms are in this, too, prior to signing with Shaw's.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for the links Brian!

Ahh, the Venoms! I finally got around to watching The Return of the Five Deadly Venoms, awesome movie! But I liked the Five Elements a bit more! Review up tomorrow for the Five Element Ninjas!

George Beremov [Nebular] said...

"Master of the Flying Guillotine" is a timeless old school kung fu classic, and probably one of the most memorable 70's martial arts flicks. Excellent review.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks Nebular! Totally agree, I'll be posting up a little something on a couple more I saw that are also excellent so be on the look out for that later today.

Free Movie said...

Amazing ! I saw it last night. I liked reading of whole conversation . Thank to all ! IT sounds like you all love watching movies. Watching movies is also my favorite time pass.

Franco Macabro said...

Glad you liked the movie and the conversation, keep coming back, we got a good group of people here who love talking movies! Hit follow and become a regular reader!


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