Master of the Flying Guillotine - Ultimate Edition (1975)

In eighteenth century China, the legendary fighter known as The One-Armed Boxer (Jimmy Wang Yu) faces his greatest challenge, as a blind Manchu assassin seeks revenge for the death of his disciples at the Boxer's hand. The blind man's weapon of choice: The Flying Guillotine, an outlandish and thoroughly improbable weapon capable of popping heads off at a great distance.

Legend has it this is Quentin Tarantino's favorite kung fu flick. Even if that's not true, it's certainly one of mine - it's just so darn much fun. Director/star Wang Yu rarely lets story get in the way of the action, and there is lots of action, frequently bizarre and gory. The movie comes to a dead stop at one point for a martial arts tournament, and all the foreign entrants - including an Indian Yogi who can extend his arms (certainly an inspiration for the Dhalsim character in the Street Fighter games) - join sides with the blind bad guy. Wang Yu has his hand full, and watching him take on his opponents, often with a mixture of strategy and treachery as much as skill, is great blood-and-thunder entertainment.

Though this has a reputation as a "lost" film, that's not entirely true - bootleg VHS dubs of fuzzy quality have been around for years, and Sinister Cinema offered a copy which was so heavily damaged, it was like watching the movie through a curtain of ropes. I have a few issues with Pathfinder Home Entertainment ballyhooing this as an "Ultimate Edition", but I'll get into that below. This is a version superior to any available so far in the States, and that alone should recommend it to kung fu fans.

The "beautifully restored" version is a bit disappointing. Taken from different sources, the final print evidences some strange wavering in the contrast in several segments - for all the world appearing that Macrovision has suddenly kicked in. That's a minor complaint, though, when comparing the overall quality of the disc to my old VHS dub. The disc's image is always impressively sharp, and the colors stable, if muted. The two-channel audio won't win any awards, but it's clean. The disc defaults to the English dub, with subtitles appearing in the restored segments (which were only available in Madarin). The yellow subtitles overlap the picture, sometimes leading to difficulty in reading.

There are three trailers: the original Chinese Export trailer ("More Excitement! More Vigor!"), the first U.S. theatrical release, and the 2002 release of this restored version. There are fair bios for Wang Yu and fight choreographer Lau Kar Leung (himself a Hong Kong legend), but only Wang gets a filmography. "Still Gallery" has 13 pictures, mostly of one-sheets and video boxes, though one is a box office report that shows Flying Guillotine sharing the top 20 with Star Wars, Carrie and Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

The audio commentary is by Wade Major of Box Office magazine, and Andy Klein of The New Times. The men often correct each other and at times are maddeningly unsure of what exactly is restored in this version, but they are informative as to where Wang Yu fits in the cosmology of the Hong Kong kung fu film, and how, in many ways, Master of the Flying Guillotine is a ground-breaking movie.

Dr. Freex, 11/20/2002