Thursday, September 8, 2016

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)

          Essentially an ultraviolent cartoon, this Quentin Tarantino favorite exaggerates beloved tropes of martial-arts cinema to a ridiculous degree. The title character, for instance, is a blind teacher who travels feudal China on a vengeance mission, and his chosen weapon is the “flying guillotine.” Picture a hatbox that accordions out when snapped into place atop a target’s head. The blind teacher launches the weapon from long distances, and then yanks the chain that’s attached to the device in order to spring the trap. The victim is decapitated instantly, with the head delivered to the blind teacher when he retracts the chain. All patently impossible, of course, but that’s the spirit of this movie. Master of the Flying Guillotine is entertaining in a manic and perverse sort of way, but it’s not to be taken seriously.
          Interestingly, Master of the Flying Guillotine is the rare sequel that has achieved more notoriety than the original film from which it was derived. That would be One Armed Boxer (1971), released in the U.S. in 1973 as The Chinese Professionals. Both pictures star and were written and directed by Taiwan’s Jimmy Wang Yu. In the first picture, a character known as One-Armed Boxer (Yu) killed disciples of a martial-arts school. In Master of the Flying Guillotine, the disciples’ teacher, Sheng Wu Chi (Kam Kong), seeks payback. Learning of a national martial-arts competition, Sheng travels to the site of the contest and systematically kills every one-armed martial artist he encounters until squaring off with One-Armed Boxer during the epic finale. As should be obvious, the plot is so thin it can barely sustain an entire movie, and, sure enough, Master of the Flying Guillotine loses the thread partway through.
          A good 30 minutes of the picture depict the competition, with one outlandish matchup after another, while the narrative treads water. Yet this storytelling gambit sorta-kinda works, simply because the battle scenes are outrageous. One fighter magically extends his forearms until they’re as long as spears. A brawl takes place with the combatants balancing on poles that rise above a field of sharp metal blades, so the first guy to fall gets perforated. In an unrelated but similarly silly scene, One-Armed Boxer impresses the students at a martial-arts academy by demonstrating his ability to climb walls and walk on ceilings, as if he’s Spider-Man. Perhaps the loopiest moment in Master of the Flying Guillotine is the scene where Sheng detects a one-armed man in a bar, unleashes his weapon, and lops off the schmuck’s head—without triggering more than a few raised eyebrows from onlookers.

Master of the Flying Guillotine: FUNKY


Frank said...

Love this film. So over the top. Hysterical - unintended or not.

toomuchhorrorfiction said...

Perhaps the only martial arts film of its era I watched as a kid. Traumatized forever.