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Chen Kuan-tai battles assassins that use a deadly, beheading weapon to kill dissidents. Based on true events, the film's weapon was completely fabricated because in real life, no one ever survived to tell what the weapon actually looked like. Written by
I found this on DVD -- some sort of low-budget or bootleg pan-and-scan transfer -- and since it wasn't marked very well hoped it might be the Yu Wang film. Alas it wasn't but this, I suppose the first of the three films involving the flying beekeeping hat of death, stands out on its own terms.
We meet the inventor of the flying guillotine, complete with an origin scene involving a lot of chin scratching. The basic premise is that an evil emperor has a few grudges and trains a crack team of assassins who use the deadly decapitator to carry out his will (complete with a decent training sequence). A few guys on the team get hit in the conscience (with shades of Macbeth) and the story gets moving. A hero emerges, the villains reveal themselves, it's a whole lot more shaded than I expected.
Be forewarned that this isn't a film of great fight scenes. Yu Wang brought those to the flying guillotine genre later. This is an HK action flick with a plot -- more like a grainy, overdubbed Die Hard. Perhaps a shot at emulating Kurasawa or Leone without the budget and great equipment, plus an awesome metalworker with a blade fetish. There are great fights but the first kill without a clean separation of mind and body happens around the 40 minute mark.
You'll also see some nice early wire work -- the assassins bound silently atop buildings in ways that would evolve to Crouching Tiger. The fight scenes are there, they just aren't the whole point of the movie and the guys fight more like real grunts than Bruce or Jackie. The guillotines might here have been like seeing light sabers for the first time.
It may not have the reputation or sense of humour of its successor, aside from the weapon itself you'll barely need to suspend disbelief, but it's heads and shoulders above most other HK films being produced at the time. In fact it's probably the reality-factor that I liked so much and I swear it reminded me of a Shakespearean plot way more than it should have. Add that up with great early effects, terrific editing, and the coolest gadget to behead a censor or two at 100 yards and you've got yourself a winner.
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