Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975)

by Jimmy "The One-Fisted Boxer" Callaway

An old roommate of mine first told me about this movie, and I woulda swore he was out of his mind if I didn't know he was already. No way a movie this cool could really exist. But sure enough, he bought a bootleg copy of it for twenty or thirty bucks (oh, Internet, how did we ever get along without you?) and we watched it in our dank bachelor pad.

Before we get into the whys and wherefores, I have a general question of the kung fu genre in general. How is it that they can choreograph such beautiful fight sequences, and then the actual deaths are so hokey? Two guys beat the shit out of each other and look like ballet dancers, but when one of them dies, they roll around and do that goofy herky-jerky move, and it just yanks you right out of it. It's a lot like how the cityscapes in Godzilla movies look so realistic, yet the monster is clearly a dude in a suit. It's very weird.

Anyways, let's fuck some Chinese guys up. Master Fung is really, really pissed because his two disciples got killed in the last movie. So he swears vengeance using his signature weapon, the flying guillotine, which is basically your grandma's lampshade on a chain with these razor-sharp blades inside. Also, when you throw it, it makes a sound like a bullet ricocheting in a John Ford movie.

After the best opening credits music in the world, we come to the One-Armed Boxer's school where he teaches his students to control their breathing to become weightless. I really appreciate kung fu movies that give me at least a little something to suspend my disbelief with, and this fact only makes Flying Guillotine that much more cooler than Crouching Tiger. It's just a shame Liu couldn't teach his students to control their breathing to make their dubbing better.

Meanwhile, Master Fung, after catching a quick haircut and throwing on his Nazi apron, starts beheading every one-armed guy he comes across. Which seems a bit rash to me. Granted, the guy is blind, but that doesn't stop him from throwing his deadly hat around. First, he decapitates some one-armed drunk trying to dine and dash, which I'm sure every server has dreamed of doing. Then, old Fung shows up at the big martial arts tournament and quilting bee.

The tournament is really the big show in this flick, pretty much comprising the whole second act. It is by far some of the baddest-ass fight scenes you're ever gonna see (minus the afore-mentioned hokey deaths), and a sure forerunner for the Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat video games that swept the globe back in the early '90s. They even got an Indian guy who can stretch his arms like Dhalsim. And the best part is when two guys go at it in the Nest of Thorns, which is where they fight on top of a series of posts with spikes underneath to run through the loser when he falls. Way more hardcore than a lotta kung fu I've seen, and that's for sure.

When another hapless one-armed guy gets done pummeling his opponent, Fung shows up with his scary incidental music and rips the guy's head off. Wrong guy again, but Fung doesn't seem to mind. He could do this stuff all day.

Liu, the One-Armed Boxer, beats a hasty, one-armed retreat to regroup and figure out a way to stop this blind lemon peel. But then the Thai boxer shows up and throws a monkey wrench into his shit. There seems to be a deep distrust of foreigners in this flick, and I'm not up on enough on my Pan-Asian politics to be able to tell if that's just representative of attitudes in the 1730s or if the Chinese just don't have much of a problem with xenophobia in their flicks. The Thai boxer (who, from his dubbing, appears to be from the Brooklyn borough of Thailand), the Dhalsim guy, and the Japanese guy (who is something of a dirty fighter) all seem to be these kinda straw men, y'know? Of course, Master Fung is Chinese himself, so maybe I'm reading too much into it. Wouldn't be the first time.

The third act is all full of fight scenes and general good times. As Master Fung and Liu engage in their showdown, Liu leads him into an aviary where all the birdies confuse Fung's remaining senses, and since they're doves (I'm pretty sure), it's a nice ironic touch done long before John Woo strangled that particular piece of imagery.

So, in all, even though revenge is the motive that drives the plot, it's really a bunch of well-choreographed fight scenes that keep this movie going. This is not a complaint, mind you. It just seems to leave me with little more to say than "Bad-ass!"

And on that note: