Starring Chen Kuan-Tai, Ku Feng, Frankie Wei, Norman Chu
Fight Choreography by Hsu Erh-Niu
Directed by Ho Meng-Hua
The Shaw Brothers was my gateway drug into martial arts films, as I’m sure it was for many fans like myself. I’m not sure which was the first Shaw Brothers film I ever saw, but this one was the most memorable. A crazy weapon, kung-fu, and a great performance by the legendary Chen Kuan-Tai.
The film begins during the Ching Dynasty, and Yung Cheng is the Emperor, a cruel man who would do anything to make sure even the slightest thought of rebellion against him is squashed. This includes two unfortunate government officials who try to defend a scholar who broke the law trying to teach the uneducated. The emperor decides to have both popular officials killed, but needs a way to have it done that doesn’t come back on him and cause the people to rebel. Xin Kang (Ku Feng) is ordered to come up with a way to kill them. After some colorful thinking, he comes up with, and you guessed it: The Flying Guillotine, an spinning disk attached to a chain that once thrown, can wrap around the head of a target and with a simple pull chop the head clean off. The emperor, impressed by his new beheading device, (once he sees it in action, taking off the head of a dog!) orders Xin Kang to teach his twelve best personal guards, as they would never betray him. Enter Ma Teng (CKT), a loyal guard who quickly figures out that yes, he does work for a douchebag. Man quickly becomes the best of the guards at using the Guillotine, and after a few kills questions the fact that all the men killed were good men. After the death of a friend, Ma Teng escapes the compound, but is harassed by his former friends. Time passes, and Ma Teng takes a wife and has a child, but the Guillotines finally catch up to him. Ma Teng must now kill them all to ensure his family’s safety…
This movie is really a campy film. The effects are laughable, the beheading scenes downright hilarious, and without a doubt this is a terrific film. Chen Kuan Tai gives a great performance as the guard with change of heart, and his fight scenes are great. Ku Feng quickly becomes sympathetic as the leader, a man who wishes to serve his emperor but not understanding the douchebag his boss actually is, until it’s far too late. The story moves at a good pace, and the moments before the Guillotine strikes are well done and lend an air of suspense to many scenes. My favorite kill doesn’t actually involve the Guillotine itself, but CKT throwing a sword. It’s one of those “ Oh no he won’t! Oh shit, he did!” .
The fights are well put together, and mixes up the combat with the guillotine strikes well. One of the better fights was actually the scene were Ma escapes the Guillotine compound. Another good tussle involves Ma versus two guillotines as his future wife plays music to cover up the sounds of Ma’s fight so the local officials don’t intervene. The end of that fight and the use of the guillotine was really well done. The entire end sequence was just a series of well put together fights. There isn’t really one absolute standout fight, but many small (but good) ones, but it’s all wrapped around the concept of the guillotine, and so the whole is greater than the parts.
I will say this: Norman Chu has one of the best death scenes ever. No one has a better look of ‘awe mixed with pain as he dies’ than Norman Chu.
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9.5
The Flying Guillotine is an absolute classic Shaw Brothers film that allows Chen Kuan-Tai to cut loose and kick ass with one of the best kung-fu weapons ever!
NEXT: Is the remake of The Flying Guillotine better than the original? Here comes the Guillotines!