|Wow. Another terrible cover.|
Notable Cast: Kuan Tai Chen, Keng Fu, Wu Chi Liu, Hung Wei
It took a while for Dragon Dynasty to finally release this 70s kung fu cult classic and when they did, Blood Brothers was all over getting our hands on a copy. The word of mouth was that "The Flying Guillotine" was an instantly memorable and sharp Shaw Brothers film (no pun intended) that rose above the gimmick of its titular weapon. All of this is true, "The Flying Guillotine" is a strong balance of story, character, and action and one that easily overcomes the pitfalls of its concept.
Ma Teng (Kuan Tai Chen) was one of twelve men secretly chosen for their strong abilities and loyalty to the Emperor to be part of a new secret assassination program. The men will be taught to use a brand new weapon called the Flying Guillotine, a bladed throwing weapon with the ability to behead the target from a long distance. When Ma Teng realizes that there is a bit of corruption in the ranks and that their targets are leaders of their own country, he decides to flee from the group incurring their wrath.
|Come at me, bro.|
|"I don't know how if fucking works either!"|
What makes "The Flying Guillotine" work is the character arc for Ma Teng. Kuan Tai Chen is impressively strong in the lead here, validating his very long career in Hong Kong cinema, and despite the obvious lack of thoughtful villain (yes, his motivation is jealousy that bleeds into power!) Kuan Tai Chen carries this film almost single-handedly. While the random time jumps that Shaw studios love to brush over still irritates, his growth from a fully loyal servant to a rebel to a family man in the third act is fascinating to watch. By the time that his fellow Guillotiners (I'm making up words now, people) show up to threaten his family, you want him to burn the whole damn program to the ground. I was ready to do it for him too. That's how strongly the story and characters had me invested.
As for action, it's hard to discredit any Shaw Brothers film here. Interestingly enough, the action and martial arts tend to be less of a focus in the film. While you do get a few hand to hand combat sequences which are fun, the film focuses on a more thriller style of action - a game of cat and mouse if you will. The use of the titular weapon tends to be surrounded by tension and atmosphere rather than excitement and adrenaline (until the finale on the rocky cliffs of a waterfall) and it comes off as more effective for the story that way. I was also impressed with the heightened sense of violence around the weapon and it makes it even scarier in feeling so that when it's used it has a stronger effect on the audience. Decapitated bodies spasm in blood puddles on the ground, a villain gets the bladed side of the guillotine to the face, and at one point they even decapitate a dog...an rather unintentionally hilarious moment. It works here though.
Written By Matt Reifschneider