With the rousing commercial glory of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in mainstream American theatrical release, it should come as no surprise that inferior martial arts-related features would start to dribble into the market in order to cash in on the Oscar-winning film’s success. First up on the rip-off brigade is the 1975 kung-phooey offering “Master of the Flying Guillotine,” which is coming to theaters in a newly restored edition in the original Chinese language edition…an effort which was not worth the bother.
“Master of the Flying Guillotine” is a noisy, chaotic affair which pits a one-armed fighter (played by the director Yu Wang, also known as Jimmy Wang Yu) who dispatches the thugs of a blind villain who possesses the Flying Guillotine. And what is a Flying Guillotine? Well, imagine a metallic Frisbee that lands on someone’s head and then offers an instant decapitation. The Master of the Flying Guillotine (who has uncanny aim for someone without eyesight) swears revenge for his lost goons and targets the one-armed fighter for revenge.
The two disabled martial artists don’t actually meet until the final ten minutes of the movie. In the interim, the audience is assaulted with endlessly ridiculous fight sequences (a man jumping through a roof, a fighter whose arms stretch 10 feet during a bout) and a seemingly endless kung fu tournament which has little to do with the plot. Unlike the grace and artistic majesty of Ang Lee’s film, this silly production stands as a dinky reminder of why martial arts film fell out of favor during the mid-1970s: cheapo production values, terrible sound effects, hyperactive editing, an inane screenplay and non-existent acting by a charisma-free cast buried under the worst make-up imaginable. Having the film re-issued in its Chinese language version robs the audience of the fun of goofy English dubbing which made the film’s original U.S. release somewhat entertaining (if only for the wrong reasons).
Initially, it was assumed that the original negatives for “Master of the Flying Guillotine” were lost. The discovery of the negatives is clearly the least welcome news in recent film preservation history.