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Issue #191a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES December 22nd, 2003

Master of the Flying Guillotine
(1976; First Films)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Duk bei kuen wong dai po huet dik ji
Mandarin: Du bei quan wang da po xie di zi
English: One-Armed Fist Master Defeats The Blood Dripper

Alternate English Titles: One-Armed Boxer II, One-Armed Boxer vs. The Flying Guillotine

For the follow-up to his 1971 success, THE ONE-ARMED BOXER (released stateside in 1973 by National General as CHINESE PROFESSIONALS), writer/director/star Jimmy Wang Yu took as his inspiration a 1975 hit produced by Shaw Brothers, the studio where he originally came to fame a decade earlier. Most viewers agree that Ho Meng-hua's FLYING GUILLOTINE is a mediocre film distinguished only by the characters' use of the amazing titular weapon, which in Cantonese is called huet dik ji or "The Blood Dripper" (also the movie's title). In the SB picture, the hat-shaped device was used by the Ching government during the 18th century to assassinate Ming revolutionaries, and MASTER continues this premise as The Boxer (Wang) is stalked by assassin Fung Sheng Wu-chi (Kam Kong). Despite the fact that he is elderly and completely blind, Fung Sheng remains a formidable opponent and arrives in the area just as a grand martial arts tournament gets under way. Fighters from all over Asia are in attendance and Fung Sheng strikes up an alliance with the representatives from Thailand (Sham Chin-bo), India (Wong Wing-sang) and Japan (played by ubiquitous villain Lung Fei, whose character defies his nickname "Kill Without a Knife"), all of whom are already anxious to test their skills against the legendary Boxer.

The storyline is fairly routine as these films go but this Taiwanese production rises above the vast majority of its contemporaries, thanks to first rate choreography by Lau Kar-leung and Lau Kar-wing (who also appears as a tournament contestant utilizing the three section staff) and a number of unusual, enjoyable touches. In addition to the thrills offered by The Blood Dripper (which may have some basis in historical fact and is manipulated here in a much smoother and more lethal looking manner than in the previous year's picture), the Indian fighter can extend his arms about a yard out in front of him (like The Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards!) and Fung Sheng can spin his head around 360 degrees, a la Linda Blair in THE EXORCIST. There are also a number of clever touches presented within the fights. The Thai killer does not wear shoes, so The Boxer lures him into a shack with a metal floor. The other Ming loyalists build a fire around the place and prevent the Thai from escaping the building, forcing him to try and fight while his feet are getting scorched. The Boxer's final battle against Fung Sheng unfolds in a coffin maker's shop that Wang's character has fitted with some ingenious booby traps (spring loaded hatchets fly out of coffins the Manchu assassin's weapon accidentally causes to open). While kung fu films from this period often "borrowed" music from Hollywood or European features (with Spaghetti Westerns a popular source) MASTER is unique in that it is scored largely with early German electronica. The main title is from NEU! 2, while the cue heard whenever Fung Sheng makes his appearance is actually another track from the same album called Super 16. There are also cues from Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk albums that I am unable to identify but there is certainly no mistaking them for anything else. This offbeat accompaniment perfectly suits the action and adds considerably to the entertainment value of this much beloved, highly repeatable movie.

Cover art courtesy Pathfinder.

Jimmy Wang Yu. Image courtesy Pathfinder.

Kam Kong. Image courtesy Pathfinder.

Wong Wing-sang. Image courtesy Pathfinder.
Pathfinder #PH90129 (U.S. label)

Dolby Digital 2.0

Mandarin and English Language Tracks (both post-synced)

Optional English and Spanish Subtitles

24 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With Grabs

Letterboxed (2.35:1)

Coded for Region 1 Only

Macrovision Encoded

NTSC Format

93 Minutes

Contains brutal violence and cruelty to animals

DVD menu courtesy Pathfinder.

Great Britain: 18
Nova Scotia: 18 (Extreme Violence)
Ontario: R
Singapore: PG
United States: R (applies only to shorter version released to U.S. theatres)

The materials supplied from overseas for the picture's 2002 U.S. theatrical re-release (and this subsequent video transfer) were obviously in dire condition. The non-anamorphic transfer contains scattered speckles, stains, and dirt marks, and a pronounced flicker is also occasionally evident. However, hues are solid and detail is good. The presentation is not on the level of restorations from the Hong Kong Legends or Celestial labels but Pathfinder's edition still represents a 100% improvement over the tattered and squeezeboxed Sinister Cinema tape (now discontinued). The movie was shortened by approximately 10m before being dubbed in English; the original Chinese cut is on offer here, so the aforementioned footage is presented in Mandarin with English subtitles. Thankfully, the viewer also has the option of watching the entire movie in Mandarin, though the subtitles are actually just dubtitles (ie. a near-exact transcription of the reasonably good English track), rather than a proper translation (Spanish subtitles are also available). Both tracks have some of the expected sonic limitations but no flaws serious enough to detract from one's enjoyment of the picture. This version carries both the MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE and ONE ARMED BOXER VS. THE FLYING GUILLOTINE titles during the opening credits, which has been the case with every other print I have seen. The latter is the English title for the Chinese version and evidently First Films decided on the MASTER handle after they already had the English credits done.

Film critics Andy Klein and Wade Major provide a commentary and impart good background on the genre, the filmmakers, and the history of martial arts. It is a worthwhile listen but there are also a number of errors. The pair fall into the trap of automatically referring to this as a HK movie, claim that the "punk" music was added later on for the 1977 U.S. English market release, state that Wang gave Jackie Chan "a break" by having him play the villain in THE KILLER METEORS (1977) when the former did not direct the picture (Lo Wei was the actual director and had Chan under contract; this change of persona for the actor was undertaken when Chan's previous pictures for Lo bombed), etc. The talk is also disorganized in spots, with the speakers correcting each other, and the repeated shuffling of notes gets pretty distracting after awhile. Three trailers are included: First Films' international English market spot, Seymour Borde & Associates' U.S. preview (narrated by Adolph Caesar and filled with hyperbole trumpeting non-existent science fiction elements and some equally fictional special FX process called Super Cinevision!), and one for the 2002 re-issue. Bios for Wang and Lau Kar-leung, and a still and poster gallery round out the supplements.

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