As with most Hong Kong martial arts films, the plot Master of the Flying Guillotine is thin, a frame to mark time between the elaborate set pieces. Enter the blind monk, a government assassin, as the film opens, discovers that two of his disciples have been killed by the aforementioned one-armed boxer (Jimmy Yu Wang, hiding one arm under his clothes; he also wrote and directed). Angered by their loss, and fueled (what else) by a desire for revenge, the blind monk (Kang Kam), decides to seek out the one-armed boxer. Presumably, the one-armed boxer will be easy to find. Unfortunately, two other one-armed men cross the blind monk's path, to disastrous results. We get to see the flying guillotine in action. Apparently, not only does the flying guillotine decapitate its victims, it also cauterizes the rather large neck wounds (the headless bodies don't exhibit signs of blood loss).
Enter the real one-armed boxer, a sifu or teacher who operates a martial arts academy. Here, we get to see his teaching methods in action, where he walks on walls (a sign of high proficiency in the arts), and practically floats above a wicker basket (to demonstrate the benefits of deep breathing). He also emphasizes the importance of jumping and jumping high (aided by off screen trampolines). Hearing of a nearby martial arts tournament, the one-armed boxer decides to attend, but not participate in the competition. The tournament itself gives Wang the opportunity to stretch the plot with a series of over-the-top fight scenes featuring a variety of fighting styles, including a Thai boxer (Tsim Po Sham) who begins each fight with an awkward dance steps, a Japanese fighter (the one-armed boxer mentions his jumping skills with approval), the yoga master with the extended arms, and several other, less imaginative fighters, most of whom, in American wrestling fashion, are simply fodder for the more colorful fighters. This long interlude is finally punctuated by the appearance of another one-armed boxer, whose presence signals the reentry of the blind monk. After dispatching the “wrong” one-armed boxer, the blind monk lays waste to the competition.
Discovering the identity of the “real” one-armed boxer, he tracks him down to the martial arts academy. Wang wisely follows martial arts conventions here, turning the first confrontation between the adversaries into a defeat for the one-armed boxer (he flees, slightly injured). The one-armed boxer, along with his students and a female fighter, retreats to a mountain hideaway where he heals first, then plans a way to defeat his formidable adversary. First, he must defeat the Thai fighter, whose alliance with the blind monk remains unexplained. Asking for character motivation (or logic) in a martial arts film, of course, is to expect too much. The one-armed boxer is clever enough to realize he must defeat the Thai boxer and the blind monk separately, in both cases luring them into an ambush. Master of the Flying Guillotine culminates with the blind monk and the one-armed boxer fighting across three different locations, inside a self-made forest of bamboo poles, an aviary (which helps to distract the blind monk's reliance on sound), and ultimately, inside a coffin shop. Without this last action set piece, the colorful characters, and the flying weapon of death (better imagined than seen), there'd be little reason to recommend Master of the Flying Guillotine. Luckily, for connoisseurs of 1970s Hong Kong martial arts cinema, Master of the Flying Guillotine is an enjoyable, occasionally cheese-heavy, afternoon diversion.
© Mel Valentin, 26th November, 2004
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