A John (Whiskey Sour) Carpenter written review
Hey Gang! Normally here at the Collective, we tend to stay more in the trashy, horror(y?), sexy, lovingly yet poorly made schlock world of celluloid. On occasion though, straying from the beaten path is necessary. Even more, sometimes it reeeeeeeeeeally pays off. Enter Master of the Flying Guillotine!
This film truly deserves a wider audience than it has. Considered by critics and aficionados as a paragon of the wu-xia (woo-shaw) genre, which you probably know as kung-fu movies, this film is a gods-damned blast. Light on plot, but heavy on incredible action sequences, imaginative fight choreography, bizarre kung-fu powers, and enough birds flying through fights to make John Wu blow a load, this is a film worth your time. Let’s dive in.
The film opens with a very old, blind kung-fu master practicing at his mountain home, with a narrator explaining that said master works for the ruling government as an assassin. A bird flies to him with a message taped to it, informing him (and you, the viewer) that his two disciples have been killed by another legendary kung-fu master known as the One-Armed Boxer. The master vows to avenge their deaths, and whips out his flying guillotine, which is something you do NOT want to put your dick in. Essentially a hat with the edge lined with blades on the outside and inside attached to a chain, he shows us exactly why you, again, do NOT want to put your dick in it. He practices on some dummies by swinging the guillotine around, throwing it over their heads, and instantly and completely decapitating them. Feeling ready, he throws a tiny bomb at his house, burns the place up, and goes on his journey, vowing to kill the One-Armed Boxer. Unfortunately for him, it seems that ancient China has enough one-armed men to keep Tommy Lee Jones busy for decades.
Cut to a kung-fu school, we learn that the One-Armed Boxer runs his own kung-fu school, and is actually a pretty nice guy. He’s not overly fond of the ruling government, which seems rather oppressive. He gets wind of a kung-fu tournament held by another kung-fu school. He has correctly assumed that Mr. Guillotine is out to pull his head off, and wants to stay low. However, his students convince him to allow them to, if not participate in the tournament, watch it to learn something. They go, and we are witness to some of the most fun sequences of fighting I’ve ever witnessed.
We get match after match of gruesome, silly kung-fu fighting, where everyone has a great name and skill to match. We also get introduced to some memorable side characters, including a Mongol fighter, an Indian yoga master who is basically Dhalsim from Street Fighter, and a Japanese fighter who I assume is some kind of policeman type figure. A Thai kickboxer is introduced earlier in the film as well, who also participates. We get to see some fantastic fighting, wonderful cinematography, and some laughably silly powers. In the middle of our fun unfortunately, Mr. Guillotine shows up and starts fucking shit up and ripping heads off people. It’s at this point that the film spirals into true awesomeness. The Thai boxer, Indian yogi, and Japanese guy team up with Mr. Guillotine, because reasons, and One-Armed Boxer has to use his wits and skills to take them out one by one.
I’m sure you can figure out how the film goes from this point. It’s rather predictable in all honesty, but it doesn’t matter one bit. The final four fight sequences are incredible, extremely well shot, and very imaginative. The final fight with Mr. Boxer and Mr. Guillotine is a combination of John Wu just jerking off birds into the shot everywhere, but with an actual reason for it, Home Alone-style booby traps, and flat out bad ass fighting. It’s also fascinating to see the treatment of other ethnic groups in the film. Finally, it’s a FANTASTIC introduction to the legendary Jimmy Wang Yu’s work. If you don’t know the name, learn it. He is one of the most important figures in Chinese film history, and therefore film history, and highly influential in the martial arts film genre. Without him, we might not have films like (whether you like ‘em or hate ‘em) Flying Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Matrix, and other films heavy on acrobatic fighting with bizarre powers. He also in part set the stage for the rising star of Bruce Lee. He has a HUGE body of work that is worth watching. In short, watch the fuckin’ movie. You can find it on Youtube, or get it from Netflix DVD, or probably Torrent it or something. I advise getting a version with subtitles, as apparently the dubbed versions aren’t that great. I give the film 4 out of 5 head-ripping offing, flying kicks to the facing, all out fun as hell dumpster nuggets. Definitely worth your time!