It is the period of the Ching Dynasty in China, and they are seeking out and killing off those citizens loyal to the previous Ming Dynasty. One man, the Master of the Flying Guillotine (Kang Kam), is sent out to dispatch the One Armed Boxer (Jimmy Wang Yu) - the Master may be blind and posing as a monk, but he is a formidable opponent with his deadly contraption that decapitates his enemies. The One Armed Boxer is one of those enemies, because he killed two of the Master's disciples in combat, and the Master suspects that he will be attending an upcoming martial arts tournament that has attracted competitors from all over the Asian world. But the Boxer knows that he and his school are in danger - will the Master bring them out into the open?
One of the most celebrated of the seventies kung fu movies, this over the top display of fighting prowess was written by its director and star, Jimmy Wang Yu, here reprising his One Armed Boxer role that sees him with one hand stuffed inside his shirt so that he can combat his would-be assassins literally single handed. The Flying Guillotine is a device that resembles a red hat, which has blades on the outside and the inside: once it drops over your head, a hard yank on the attached chain will see you noggin promptly leave its shoulders without even a "how do you do?"
If you're settling down to watch Jimmy Wang Yu beat people up, then you're going to be disappointed for the first hour, because after showing his students the advantages of weightlessness (walking on the ceiling seems to be the main one), he sits out the fight scenes, preferring to observe and, dispense wisdom about how he doesn't wish to see his students die. The action is taken care of by the entrants in the tournament, including an aggressive Thai (Tsim Po Sham, probably the most charismatic performance) who looks set to cause trouble.
The tournament is the first major setpiece of the film, and is especially inventive. Pitting both unarmed and armed fighters against each other, a high body count ensues; we see one man employing a deadly pony tail that strangles his victims, another who is kicked in the bollocks about fifteen times without feeling pain (due to some kind of magic spell or whatever), and an Indian fellow who has the power to stretch his arms to extraordinary length, a bit like a deadly version of Mr Tickle. The tournament director's daughter also competes, using an "Eagle Claw" technique that rips the clothes off her opponent to much hilarity.
The action is so extreme that laughter is the best reaction. When the Master arrives to break up the competition, he whips off the head of a one armed boxer (as opposed to *The* One Armed Boxer), and the organiser complains, without any irony, that killing contestants is just not on, depsite the amount of bodies we've seen piling up during the course of the contest. Everyone is looking for a punch up in this film, and when The Boxer realises there's danger he gets set upon by troublemakers who we've seen in action - finally he is forced to fight back.
But most importantly he must find a way of defeating the Master, who has teamed up with the Thai. He doesn't go out and buy an excessively chunky polo neck jumper, but devises a more elaborate plan, first to kill the Thai (an ingeniously nasty bit of business) and then the Master by luring him into a trap. This climactic combat scene is worth the wait, featuring axes, twittering birds (to confuse the blind assassin), and coffins; the Master appears unbeatable, as he's not only armed with the guillotine, but has a collection of explosives and the ability to turn his head 360 degrees in an Exorcist fashion. The plot may be predictable, but the film throws up many outrageous surprises, and the pace never flags. But how do they make those thudding noises even when their fists and feet don't make contact? Something to ponder as you're enjoying the action. Music by Hsun Chi Chen.
Chinese actor/director born Yu Wang, who has worked almost entirely in the martial arts genre. A former swimming champion, Yu became one of the biggest stars of 70s kung fu for his work in films such as the The Magnificent Trio, One Armed Swordsmen and Dragon Squad. Often directed himself in his films and produced the Jackie Chan-starrer Island on Fire.