It's now time for what you've all been waiting for. 36 Styles Season has officially begun and to start off with I'll be reviewing what is considered by many to be an all out classic in every sense of the word. It is of course Jimmy Wang Yu's 1976 Old School Kung Fu fight fest that is Master of the Flying Guillotine!
A sequel to Wang Yu's earlier film One Armed Boxer (Though you don't need to have seen it to follow the story) Wang Yu returns as the solodextrous Kung Fu master who is busy teaching at his own martial arts school when a blind monk(Kam Kong) appears armed with the titular flying guillotine and holds a grudge against our hero who had killed his two best students in the previous film.
First of all let me start by saying I've been itching to write a review for this for a long time. The DVD has been sitting on my desk waiting patiently to be watched and I'm glad I finally gave myself the opportunity to revisit what is one of my favourite Kung Fu films of the 70's A lot of really good movies were made during that era and narrowing it down is never easy but this is a movie that has always had a place on my list, regardless of what other films I get to see. So it's with lots of energy and enthusiasm that I'm able to finally put my thoughts down into the written word and hope you enjoy reading the rest of my review.
Jimmy stars in what has to be one of the best films he's appeared in. Say what you will about the man himself but you can not deny he has been a part of some great examples of Chinese Cinema. From his days at Shaw Brothers to his more turbulent days at Golden Harvest, Wang Yu is an actor who happens to be in films I've liked and was thrilled to see him duke it out with Donnie Yen in Peter Ho's brilliant Wu Xia. What he may have lacked in acting skills he more then made up for it in commitment. The way he fights in the many scenes within the run time show that while he may not have had the advanced skill set of people like Gordon Liu, he still tried hard to make himself look like a legitimate tough guy and his stoic acting works in his favour here.
The rest of the cast in terms of their acting is ultimately forgettable. They tend to let their fists and feet do their acting for them and I didn't mind that too much at all. It has to be said though, Kam Kong stole the show as the blind monk out to kill Wang Yu's character. While he didn't say much, he let his body language do the talking. The way he walks to how he moves his head when he's listening for his opponents next move shows that he's a lot more dangerous then he appears. Especially given the fact he carries with him a deadly weapon capable of ripping people' s heads cleaning from their bodies.
He also looks impressive swinging the guillotine around his head and ends up creating one of the most iconic images of classic Kung Fu Cinema. The film also tries to squeeze in as much action as it can handle. The film's main plot is stopped dead in it's tracks when Wang Yu attends a local martial arts tournament. This sequence features several fights with each combatant displaying a different fighting style. Familiar faces such as Lau Kar-Wing, Philip Kwok and Jimmy Lee appear briefly. Each fight have varying degrees of quality. Which is odd given Kar-Wing was the action director along with his brother Lau Kar-Leung. The highlight for me personally came from a fight between Jimmy Lee as a Tiger & Crane fighter going up against a Muay Thai fighter played by Sham Chin-Bo. Both fighters are constantly sizing each other up and are forced to continually change their strategy in order to gain the upper hand.
It made the fight look slightly more realistic and I would have loved to have seen that kind of approach taken with the rest of the fights but what we're left with is still entertaining as the different fighting styles of the combatants does allow the Lau brothers to be able to make each fight feel different and unique. It's a shame that in some of the more interesting looking match ups, the choreography comes off as a bit limp. The only explanation I can think of was a severe lack of time because given what both Lau brothers have done I find it hard to believe they would intentionally be this sloppy. Of course it could just be that the performers were incapable of doing what was demanded of them. Which is something you do tend to see on old Kung Fu movies.
Another memorable fight happens when Wang Yu goes one on one with an Indian Yoga expert played by Wong Wing-Sang. His character possesses the truly mad ability of being able to stretch his arms allowing him to be able to keep his body at a distance while being able land hits on his opponent. It's been noted this was what inspired the character of Dhalsim in the popular video game franchise Street Fighter. The choreography is a little awkward but given the actor had to work with prop arms it's totally understandable but we're left with an honest to goodness crazy fight scene that makes the film all the better.
Finally we reach the finale where Wang Yu finally takes on the Blind Monk. I loved this fight, as it's just a knock down, drag out straight up brawl with both actors tossing each other around. The most interesting aspect for me comes from how Wang Yu uses the environment as a way of trying to stay one step ahead of the Monk. There's a nicely done sequence in which he smashes bird cages and uses the panicking birds as a distraction which allows him to land a few hits. This makes sense as Wang Yu has to compensate for the fact he only has one arm and has to be extra careful, especially when constantly evading the flying guillotine.
Master of the Flying Guillotine is a film truly deserving of it's status among fans and if you haven't seen it yet, you owe yourself to track down a copy and watch it immediately as it's a film that reminds us why we love the martial arts genre with a passion.
Now it's time for me to announce the first ever Chopsticks On Fire Giveaway. Courtesy of SHAOLINCHAMBER36 one lucky reader will win this fantastic MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE shirt!
All you have to do is send an e-mail with your name, postal address, shirt size and desired colour (click the link below the image for colours available) and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Closing date for entries will be Thursday July 12th, any entries received after that date will be ineligable. The lucky winner will be selected at random and announced the following day Friday July 13th when I will be posting my review. Good luck everyone check back next week when I'll be posting a review for Dance of the Drunk Mantis!