Monday, March 19, 2012

The Flying Guillotine

The Action Mutant…
doesn't give a flying...guillotine.

The Flying Guillotine

review by Joe Burrows

The Plot, as it was:
Kuan Tai Chen stars as Ma Teng, a soldier in Emperor Yung Cheng's (Yang Chiang) army. The Emperor has commissioned for a new weapon to be made: a flying helmet attached to a chain that can take off a person's head from a hundred yards! Once the implement is made, Cheng has those he considers to be traitors (i.e. everyone) assassinated with it at his whim. All of this causes Ma Teng to desert the Emperor and live out his life with street performer Yu Ping (Wu Chi Liu) and start a family. This further pisses off Cheng, who sends out those from his fighting force to capture him...head optional.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Finality. This is what I believe intrigues one to watch something like The Flying Guillotine. Ok, so its probably seeing a cool ass weapon rarely seen in cinema. I mean, this thing had to be the iPhone of its time (and who said ol' TAM couldn't make a topical reference in 2012, eh?)! Actually, the weapon itself is largely a fabrication because those that saw it in action didn't live to tell about it! In any respect, those expecting all kinds of gore, guts & mayhem from TFG maybe be disappointed for the most part. Sure, its there but writer Kuang Ni adds in stuff like a story and characters with reasoning first. Hell, it takes about 25 minutes for the apparatus to catch its first victim! But seeing the development and training behind the implement of destruction makes it all the worth while when it is finally brought about. The subplot involving Ma Teng & Yu Ping is kinda rushed along, like it would be in an American film, where they meet and five minutes later, they have a kid and are living on a farm. However, their relationship does provide an emotional center to the film and doesn't make it something about revenge or reclaiming one's honor for once. Protecting one's self and their family is something everyone can get behind and its a crowd pleaser once the enemy tastes the business end of the flying helmet of doom. The process of seeing the guillotine in action does look cheap (dig day changing to night, man!) but you had to figure there would be some camp in this candy and it does make for some admittedly hilarious demises. Whereas the later Master of the Flying Guillotine is more well known and may be the "cooler" choice, this one is the entry that solidified it and made that one possible. It's not perfect (the fighting isn't all that great or memorable and some time could have been shaved off in determining what we already knew: the Emperor is a paranoid douche) but all of the classical elements are there for a fun "Good v. Evil" encounter and establishing a grand tradition; the tradition of losing one's head to an oversized beekeeper's helmet, surrounded by razors. Good times.

Body Count/Violence: 25 (plus a dog and a chicken). Nearly 3/4 of the departed are done in by the titular weapon, which occasionally leaves gory aftereffects (bloody stumps, limbs quivering, etc.). Others are slashed with swords or hit with the outward guillotine blades.

Sexuality/Nudity: A brief tit shot near the beginning and that's the end of that.

Language/Dialogue: Nothing really, other than "Goddamn".

How bad was it?:
Though little seen, The Flying Guillotine does have a fair, if not spectacular track record with critics of the genre. Though looked at favorably for the most part, most say that the formula was improved upon in the later Guillotine sagas.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Produced by Shaw Brothers, The Flying Guillotine was released in Hong Kong on 2/18/75. No box office or budget figures are known but it did produce a sequel (Palace Carnage in 1978) and the more well known Jimmy Wang Yu vehicle Master of the Flying Guillotine in 1976. TFG was released in America in 1981 by World Northal, a steady purveyor of B-Movies for much of the 1980s.

Film: ***/*****
Entertainment value: ***1/2/*****

Copyright 2012 The Action Mutant.

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