Monday, November 18, 2013

Master of the Flying Guillotine

What's my favorite martial arts movie? Well, Enter the Dragon, of course -- it's in a class by itself. But my second fave is Master of the Flying Guillotine, which has more fight action than any other film of its genre -- hell, perhaps of any film ever!
The plot of the film is simple: The blind Master of the Flying Guillotine is out to kill the One-Armed Boxer. Yes, this is a fighting film in which the two protagonists are, ahem, differently-abled. This does not prevent them from kicking insane amounts of ass. Master of the Flying Guillotine is one ass-kicking after another. Hell, in the middle of the movie they stop dead for a martial arts tournament that absorbs about a third of the film's running time with nothing but one warrior after another duking out to the death in whatever bizarre fighting style they favor. It's basically Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter in film form (and both those games would rip off ideas and characters from this sequence).

So, we open with Fung, the eponymous Flying Guillotine Master getting some kind of braille message via domino via carrier pigeon that his two disciples have been killed by the One-Armed Boxer. Never mind that said disciples set out to kill said One-Armed Boxer, somehow they must be avenged. So Fung Master jumps through his roof, whips off a bunch of fencepost skulls with his flying guillotine, blows up his house and sets off to dish out the comeuppance!
Cue the opening credits, distinguished by some nice action stills but, more than that, an amazing garage-distorted, wah-wah-pedaled theme song that sounds like the Butthole Surfers trying to impersonate T. Rex. This is not the first or only piece of brilliant musical incongruity in Master of the Flying Guillotine -- Fung is constantly accompanied by a grinding Krautrock soundtrack (yes, that is actually Can and also some Neu!) that adds to his menace -- two other characters will be fighting or talking, but most likely fighting and suddenly this industrial grind n' groan rises on the soundtrack and WHACK! someone's headless.
The flying guillotine itself is a sort of birdcage-sawblade contraption -- you throw it at your enemy, it lands on their head, pull the chain and Voila! Instant decapitation. Such is the fate of Fung the Guillotine's first victim -- a three-limbed wino who cadges free drinks by telling everyone he's the famous One-Armed Boxer. You'd think in Martial Arts Battle Universe one would know better than to impersonate a legendary fighter, as legendary fighters always have someone out to rip their fucking head off with a doubled-bladed frisbee on a bike chain.
In the meantime, the real One-Armed Boxer -- played by director Jimmy Wang Yu -- is running his Kung Fu School and nobly refusing to participate in the upcoming big-money battle royale.

And so we come to said martial arts tournament. And, literally, it is one wacky fighter after another getting in the ring and battling until one's corpse is carried away. Behold...

Fake Bruce Lee vs. Fake Bruce Lee

Pointy-Hat High-Jump vs. The Man With Strategically Exposed Nipples

Mighty Choking Pigtail vs. Mustache Leatherdaddy

Little Guy Who Kicks People in the Nuts vs. Big Guy Who Punches People in the Face

Princess Eagle Claw vs. Monkeybutt-asshole.

Two Guys Who Fight on Poles Over a Pit of Knives
Yes, that's how good this movie is: Fighting on poles over a pit of knives is a throwaway battle.

Blades n' Jammies vs. Gadget Arms Yoga Guy

Uncouth Muy Thai Douchebag vs.Snakestyle Fancypants

Mantis-Style Moptop vs. The Wrong One-Armed Boxer 

Of course, Actual One-Armed Boxer gets dragged into this once he realizes Old Blind Nazi Monk Who I Bet Digs Throbbing Gristle Too is on a mission and will not be stopped.
Well, think about it: He's blind. It's not like he can carry around the photo -- sorry, the little domino with the bas-relief one-armed man -- and check it. Better to just kill 'em all.

One-Armed Boxer shoos his kung fu students off to safety, takes a challenge from Uncouth Muy Thai Douchebag (who is in cahoots with Flying Guillotine, somehow) and Gadget Arms Yoga Guy (Did you really think they were only gonna use that one once?). Master of the Flying Guillotine understands that good martial arts movies are like porn in one crucial aspect: The audience is here for the action. Plot is downtime. Get to what we came to see. Thus, Master of the Flying Guillotine has a crazed, balls-to-the-wall fight every five minutes and often more frequently than that.

Finally Flying Guillotine and One-Armed Boxer duke it out in a no-holds-barred battle, with a warm-up duel against Uncouth Mui Thai Douchebag.. All of this took a lot of location scouting -- we even see them renting the coffin shop (Yes!) for the closing fight. The One-Armed Boxer is as much about strategy as he is about force. I bet he can chessbox too...
Again, to reiterate, Master of the Flying Guillotine is a must-see in the world of martial arts flicks. It has inspired remakes, hip-hop albums, T-shirts, action figures, countless ripoffs and its own Urban Dictionary.  entry. Can you say the same about Citizen Kane or Last Year in Marienbad?

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