A big commercial hit afterward much imitated, The Flying Guillotine (Xue di zi, 1974) did not impress me one whit. Purporting to be about the Quin Dynasty's most terrifying weapon, developed to assassinate rebels, this titular weapon is of course the complete invention of cinemamatic absurdism.
A tossable bronze cap combined with buzz-saw on a chain rips off the top of its target's head exposing the brain, or unfolds from pate to neck like a big accordioned tophat to snatch off the entire head in a bag. Four films would be made about this weapon, plus versions of it would periodically be seen in other films.
If we assume stupid is cool, the first cool thing that happens is the flying guillotine saws off the head of a yapping dog. On the Silly-o-Meter this ranks as one of the silliest weapons ever concocted for any movie. The fact that it went over well at the boxoffice just encouraged directors to continue down the path of silliness.
Twelve agents are specially trained to preserve Manchu rule by means of the Head-Sawing Cat-in-the-Hat's Hat. We're treated to a lot of training sequences before any mission starts, but tossing the bronze hat just never looks like a real martial skill.
These agents go on several assassination missions before Tian-fu (Wong Yu) balks at any more killing for the Emperor (Kong Yueng), since even good men are being killed. So Tian-fu is killed by means of the flying guillotine as an object lesson to critics within the brotherhood. Thereafter they suffer divisive in-fighting over the loss of one of their own.
The abysmal live-action cartoon takes forever to introduce a character of genuine interest, but finally we meet Ma-teng (Chen Kuan-tai), a man of conscience who would rather be a poor farmer than continue to be a killer for the Emperor.
When he expresses how upset he is about the excess of killing without sufficient cause, the Emperor just says, "Assassinate him," which further disrupts morale.
Ma-teng tries to sneak away that night, but is detected, & fights his way out of the palace grounds.
Had he been permitted retirement, things might've gone well for the dynasty, but as the Emperor insists on sending men to punish the unfaithful man, Ma-teng finds himself pitted against the government.
He develops an "umbrella of knives" that can defeat the Flying Guilotine & turn it back against its user, though it pretty easily gets broken. He then gets his hands on one of the guillotines & uses it to defeat more of the brotherhood, which is eventually wiped out.
Ho Meng-hua is a masterful director (he made one of my top-ten wuxia favorites, The Lady Hermit), & the character of Ma-teng is genuinely heroic & appealing. But to me that whirly-hat never ceases to look retarded. The pretense that it's so dangerous is only laughable.
The story runs its course then we're informed all knowledge of the horrific weapon was destroyed for the safety of future generations, which must be why the film had to depict the ridiculous whiry-hat instead.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl