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  Flying Guillotine, The Decapitation Nation
Year: 1975
Director: Hua Ho Meng
Stars: Chen Kuan Tai, Ku Feng, Wei Hung, Chi Wu Liu, Ai Ti, Tu Lin Wei, Wong Yue, Chiang Yang, Norman Chu, Ricky Hui, Kei Lee Sau, Lei Lung, Li Peng-Fei, Lin Wen-Wei, Chin Wu Chi, Wei Pai, Wang Han Chen, Lu Wei, Lo Han, Wen Hsui, Chiang Lin, Min Min
Genre: Martial Arts, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The tyrant Emperor (Chiang Yang) is most displeased. Two of his advisors are not telling him what he wishes to hear, and as a result he orders them to be executed, but his right hand man informs him this is not a sensible path to take, for it will cause unnecessary unrest among his subjects. Better to forget a public execution, and do it in a manner that will have the citizens unsure of whether they were officially killed or not, but what would be the best method to go about that? The Emperor sets his best man on the job, Xin Kang (Ku Feng), who quickly devises an ingenious device for murder: a flying guillotine that will chop off the heads of your opponents from many yards away...

Consensus seems to be that this was the second movie to feature that particular type of weapon, though it was never going to be the most popular of its kind, nunchuks proving probably the most identifiable martial arts combat tool. This was largely because prior to these films, there was no such thing as a flying guillotine, a circular throwing weapon that either chopped away with the blades around its outer rim, or more pertinently, settled on the top of the head, dropped a ring of knives down to the neck, and with a flick of the wrist the cable attached to would close the metal around the throat and sever the bonce from its shoulders. As innovations went, it was a nasty one.

But one that remained strictly bound to fiction, since the logistics and skill involved in actually using something like that to any degree of success would have been ridiculously difficult to master, and whether it would have worked at all was highly questionable. No matter, for it made for a striking series of action sequences where potential victims did their darnedest to avoid the decapitation and more often than not failed, the point being a weapon had been devised that was well-nigh impossible to beat. It was notable that The Cold War was well underway in 1975 and the threat of nuclear missiles was on everyone's minds, and the guillotine here was equated with the terrible power of those.

What do you do against an unbeatable offense, and what kind of world is it where such things are allowed to be not only invented but also implemented? The moral issues were more than the simple musing over what to do if, say, you are seeking revenge or found it necessary to rescue somebody from a villain, they were calling into question the fabric of a society that permitted, never mind needed, such threats to sustain itself, and after starting out like an ensemble piece where you are unsure of who you are supposed to be focusing on, the guillotine begins to work its "magic" and soon the cast were being pared away to leave us with Ma Teng (Chen Kuan Tai) who is among the assassins at first, but ends up horrified at what he is being asked to do for the despotic Emperor's whims.

This renders him a man on the run for much of the second half, with his former colleagues in hot pursuit though he is a well-hidden fugitive and manages to give most of them the slip. While he is doing so, he makes an acquaintance of a poor singer who performs satirical and comedy songs on the streets as a busker, Yu Ping (Liu Wu Chi), and they strike up a rapport. Not hanging around, by the final act they have a baby and a new profession as farmers, though the Emperor’s men have not given up their search in all that time. If this was not quite as wacky as the more celebrated Jimmy Wang Yu flick Master of the Flying Guillotine, a guaranteed crowd pleaser when it came to the more outrageous martial arts efforts out of seventies Hong Kong, then its more serious approach was both welcome and, after a fashion, rather bizarre, asking to see this made up, absurd weapon as a real peril and emblematic of the wider arms race. Nevertheless, it was different in a decade that often stuck to variations on the same themes for martial arts projects. Music by Wang Fu-Ling.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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