Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975)

I don't know, I guess maybe I like my kung fu warriors to be crippled. It just makes things more fun that way. Here we have a masterpiece of 1970s Hong Kong Kung Fu cinema, where the main battle is between a one armed boxer and a 97 year old blind monk. It'll have to do.

Kam Kang stars as the old monk, Wu Chi, and master of China's most feared weapon, the flying guillotine. Basically, it's a hat with retractable blades attached to a chain. It lands on a head, the chain is yanked and the head comes clean off. It's the early 18th century and the Ming dynasty has been replaced by the Ching dynasty (I think). Wu Chi is a servant to the latter and has been contracted to root out and destroy all remaining Ming loyalists. I guess there was a previous movie, simply called The One Armed Boxer, where two Wu Chi disciples were destroyed by Ti Lung (Wu Yang, who also directed), uh...the one armed boxer. In the beginning of this story, Wu Chi is practicing with his hat of death when a carrier pigeon arrives bearing a message from his disciples. Apparently, one brail chinese character is all it takes for Wu Chi to learn that his two men went into battle against the one armed man, knowing it was certain death. They ask for vengeance. At this point, Wu Chi used his guillotine on a rooster, in anger, and it ran around the yard with no head for a while. Then he threw a grenade at his home and ran off to avenge his boys. Cue the funkiest title sequences I've seen in a while that actually gives this picture two separate titles; Master of the Flying Guillotine and The One Armed Boxer Vs. The Flying Guillotine. We're off to a fucking rousing start.

The picture then takes us to some town in China, forgive me if I didn't catch any of the names, where a Kung Fu tournament is about to begin. Ti Lung runs a kung fu school in the town and is reluctant to join. Fighters come from all over, even India and Japan, to compete in matches that often result in death. The tournament scenes were some of my favorite in the picture and featured riveting fights between such styles as eagle claw, monkey fist, snake charmer, some Japanese style, Indian yoga style, etc. My favorite was the Indian guy who could stretch out his arms for some reason (apparently, India has a gamma radiation problem or something) and choke his victims from far away. I'm not really sure how that's an advantage but, I guess if you're opponent isn't very good it could work. Against a guy like Ti Lung, it just gets you thrown against a wall. So, yeah, loved the tournament scenes which reminded me of Bloodsport and, strangely enough, The Quick and the Dead, except in this movie, the Gene Hackman character isn't too evil and he's disposed of rather quickly.

Wu Chi is one fucking old bastard. He shows up in typical fashion by killing a drunken homeless guy with his weapon just because he happens to have one arm. Then the old fuck proclaims, to a full bar, "I will kill anyone I come across that has one arm". It's a little jarring actually just how terrible a guy he is. One of the tournament fights involves a one armed guy (not the hero, again) and after Mr. One-Arm (his actual name) wins, Wu Chi jumps onto the field of play, decapitates the poor guy (some victory prize) and then kills the tourney president and wounds his daughter. I actually set myself up to like this guy, but those feelings have long since fled. In the beginning, we were manipulated to maybe root for Wu a little bit and against Lung, who after all, killed Wu's disciples. Usually, revenge tales are told from the side of good, so I actually enjoyed how they turned this one around on us a bit.

I'm positive Tarantino is a fan of this picture, although I couldn't tell where he might have referenced it in Kill Bill. Possibly the largely electronic score, which is a joy to behold. The dubbing on the DVD I watched was fine, except that, for no apparent reason, it was constantly switching to Chinese with subtitles every ten minutes or so. It became a bit annoying. If you've ever seen a Kung Fu movie, you know what to expect as far as sound effects: Lots of "whoosh whooshing" and the sound of bamboo poles hitting each other. The picture quality was much better than I expected with only a few instances of discoloration or grain. This is probably as good as this one's ever going to look.

The fight scenes are, with few exceptions, outstanding. A couple of the tournament fights could have been trimmed all together (the ones that were shot slowly to mask a lack of ability I'm sure). There's a great fight in a burning hut with a metal floor, where one of the combatants ends up frying like a strip of bacon on a skillet. The last fight between Wu Chi and Li Tung is fabulous. It begins outside of town and continues in a cave, through the town, and into a coffin shop! The end result made me laugh.

I would never have watched this if it weren't for my recent viewing of Machine Girl where another bastard character employs the flying guillotine. I think I need more Kung Fu in my diet. I just devoured this picture and I'm already hungry for more (barely ten minutes later)!


D said...

I love this film! If you are jonesing for another kung-fu film, I also highly recommend "Snake Deadly Act."

brian said...

Thanks d, I'm totally going to add that to my netflix queue and move it up.