The Flying Guillotine (1975) Poster

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Heads do roll...
poe42628 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Xin Kang (Ku Feng) is tasked by The Emperor with coming up with a new method for eliminating scholars and intellectuals (not to mention other government officials) who deviate from the Party Line. Watching jugglers in the town square, he comes up with THE FLYING GUILLOTINE. While the contraption as presented here (and elsewhere, in various other films) may be improbable, it serves its cinematic purpose. The Emperor is so impressed with it that he assigns a special squad of assassins to perfect the killing technique(s) to be employed. Ma Teng (Chen Kuan-Ti) quickly becomes a standout, but when he comes close to accidentally killing fellow assassin Ah Kun, Kun decides to get rid of Ma Teng by accusing him of plotting treason. When Ma Teng expresses qualms about the assassinations of several government officials, it's only icing on the cake for Kun. It turns out that Ma Teng isn't the only assassin having second thoughts. Xin Kang and Ah Kun go after the dissenters. "Our heads don't belong to us any more," Kang says. Will Ma Teng survive, or will The Emperor's assassins take his head? THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, while it doesn't contain a LOT of fight scenes, is good, old-fashioned storytelling and well worth your time.
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Total classic !
ebiros29 June 2009
I like kung-fu films starring Chen Kuan Tai, but this one is special even for him. In my opinion, this is the baddest kung-fu movie ever made because of the weapon that's used and how its victims dies one after another under its nefarious power. This first and (imo) best of the Flying Guillotine sagas, has actual plot and a story for a change, and good acting and quality cinematography.

The idea is shocking, and the way its ruthlessly used is even more so, but that's what makes this film extra special good. Basically, 12 assassin ninjas who are trained to use the flying guillotine goes out killing unsuspecting victims one by one from a distance they never suspect attacks to come from. And of course all the people standing around them pee in their pants to see the head get sliced off their body.

Along with Executioner from Shaolin, this is one of the best movie Chen Kuan Tai starred in, and one of the best kung-fu action movie made in the '70s.

Watch this along with its equally high quality sequel - Flying Guillotines II (1978) where it picks up where this story left off.

Highly recommended.
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Killer Shaw slicer
InzyWimzy20 September 2004
Was this the film that started the whole decapitating fad?

A very atypical Shaw Bros story here that doesn't involve your typical training to enter Shaolin temple or revenge motif. Instead, you're not sure who to root for or jeer at. My favorite scenes include anyone with the flying guillotine. Just seeing those bodies headless and limbs flailing (the red paint smears were a great gory touch!). By the end, there's double crossing and power corrupts. Really great use of Shaw Studios sets and the colors and costumes looked great on this Celestial DVD release. Also, stick with it and you get a great finish to boot. So, while not a classic Shaw Bros film, this one is a "cut" above the rest.
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Great story, no really.
Eli-1113 August 2002
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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Not as much fun as Wang Yu film, but moves along quite well.
winner5515 July 2006
This is one of those few movies that enters cinema legend simply because a better remembered film was made in response to it. Flying guillotine was quite popular in its day, thus Wang Yu's idea of stealing an idea from it. Now it's become difficult find.

Of course I saw this after seeing Wang Yu's later film. Consequently I was actually prepared for a film much less fun than the later film.

well, it is a little less fun - but only a little. Ho Meng-hua has really paced this film well - Whenever we reach a point where the plot appears in danger of slowing down, Ho makes sure something happens to recapture our attention.

The cinematography is quite good, and the editor has used the footage well. But my sense is that the largest contribution was from Ho Meng-hwa.

Of course, it helps a little to have Chen Kuan Tai play the hero. Chen was not only a brilliant traditional kung-fu performer, he could also act quite convincingly.

There are a number of slips in the film, but thanks to its pacing, these are easy to ignore. It's definitely a "grand-guinol" B-movie; but I wouldn't have it any other way.
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Worthwhile historical martial arts opus
Woodyanders13 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The evil and corrupt Emperor Yung Cheng (a marvelously ruthless portrayal by Yang Chiang) commissions a new deadly and seemingly unstoppable weapon known as the flying guillotine. After elite squad member Ma Teng (a solid and likable performance by Kuen Tai Chen) objects to the immoral killings done with the guillotines and decides to defect, Cheng sends the other members of the assassination squad to track Teng down and kill him. Director Meng Hua Ho relates the enjoyable and engrossing story at a snappy pace, doesn't skimp on the bloody'n'brutal violence, stages the action scenes with flair and skill, offers a meticulous and convincing evocation of the period setting, and even sprinkles in a little tasty female nudity for good measure. Kuang Ni's surprisingly meaty script nicely explores the significant themes of guilt, honor, loyalty, morality, and betrayal. The lavish sets and costumes provide an impressive sense of scope. The titular contraption rates as one seriously nasty and fearsome piece of lethal work. The lovely Wu Chi Liu brings a winning blend of charm and substance to her role as the sweet and sympathetic Yu Ping. Hui-chi Tsao's crisp widescreen cinematography gives this film a handsome and expansive look. Fu-ling Wang's dynamic and dramatic score hits the stirring spot. A really sound and satisfying Shaw Brothers outing.
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Keep your head in this one...
wandering-star13 December 2013
A paranoid emperor has 12 assassins trained in the use of a new weapon - the flying guillotine, which can take a guy's head off at 100 paces. The weapon is pretty cheesy actually, but in a good way if you like these old Shaw Bros flicks.

The main appeal of this film is that it is plot driven with a good story line, touching on concepts of morality and when to question loyalty.

However, the kung fu is a bit sparse and we don't really see much martial arts until probably 40 minutes in.

Worth watching though, better plot than most of these 70's kung fu flicks even if it isn't exactly packed with kung fu action.
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The flying guillotine
skullfire-4801224 April 2019
Another Shaw brothers classic! I would highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys this genre.
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Not As Good As I Thought It Would Be
premiumcream22 June 2001
This film is unlike any Shaw Bros. movie I have ever seen. It is about a man who invents a new weapon. It's a flying hat type thing that cuts people's heads off. The man presents it to the evil emperor and the Emperor hires him to teach a squad of soldiers how to use the weapon. A series of events happens and finally after about 35 minutes a main character is established. He runs away from the training camp and the inventor is instructed by the Emperor to hunt him down. This is a long movie by Shaw standards, almost 2 hours long. Also it features the worst fight choreography I've ever seen. It's a pretty original concept, but it should've been executed better. Overall I give it a 5/10.
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Review - Xu di zi
thenolanfan19 July 2020
Slightly underrated, I don't think that the influence of this movie is overlooked, but its IMDb rating certainly is. I think that this movie is overshadowed by its successor, Master of the Flying Guillotine, which indeed contained more fight sequences.

However, The Flying Guillotine is a martial arts movie that concentrates on his plot and is aware of his weaknesses.

Is an exceptionally strong plot for a 1970s Hong Kong movie, can engage the viewer with a wonderful camera angle of rooftop instead of using endless fight sequences, many scenes were shot in a realistic natural environment and some cool transition brought up by important objects.

I also have praise to give to the sound effect of "The Flying Guillotine", it's sound is well used to build tension and fear, because you know that something is happening. Unconsciously, as a viewer, I was always trying to estimate the proximity of the danger, which is fascinating.
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Decent Shaw enterprise
Leofwine_draca24 June 2021
Warning: Spoilers
THE FLYING GUILLOTINE is another enjoyable Shaw excursion into the world of wacky weaponry and there's non wackier than the infamous titular weapon. In the hands of BLACK MAGIC director Ho Meng-hua this is a riotously gory little escapade which offers Chen Kuan Tai another chance to essay a tough guy character. Excellent character support from Ku Feng and Wong Yue at the outset of his career. The action isn't as involving or elaborate as in other Shaw martial arts epics, but the story of political and personal corruption is an engaging one and the staging as efficient as ever. Not as outrageous as the cult epic spin-off MASTER OF THE GUILLOTINE, but still decent.
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Very good..
RosanaBotafogo10 July 2021
Having even done a research on such a guillotine, I found that there is no historical proof of its existence, but a program created and replicated and the guillotine worked with puppets, I prefer to believe in the magic of legends, even though this one is tragic, Ma Teng has charisma, together with his wife and the beautiful baby, the attractive and well-developed script, the chase atmosphere, and the scenes with the Guillotines in operation (exaggerated, but exuberant) all conquer us, and enchant us... Very good..
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Campy 70s Martial Arts
iquine28 July 2020
(Flash Review)

This is meant to be lightly campy I assume or is it just the 70s and low budget? The Emperor had ordered two important officers executed and has entrusted a stealthy ninja to do a clean job. The ninja needed to invent the Flying Guillotine for the special task. This weapon can lop heads clean off from a long distance. The Emperor has also commanded a group to train with the main ninja to master this weapon and become a killing arm to kill traitors. When ordered to assassinate more than just traitors some question their loyalty to the Emperor vs their morals. When the main ninja questions the orders, now he is the one order to die. Can he survive as the warriors he trained who now aim to lop off his head? Overall, this is lightly entertaining. Quality of early Bruce Lee movies.
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Some of the less memorable stuff from a bulletproof production team.
therskybznuiss8 June 2021
First thing' s first, I have yet to see anything from this era of Shaw Bros which isn't some of the dopest cinema in history. The sets, the (dubbed) acting. This movie sort of falls off in the plot dept. With your boilerplate Hans Vs Manchu Tyranny.

Like I said, there's not much wrong with this, it just feels pretty generic.
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Good fun kung fu theatre!
Rufus T24 August 1999
This film is no high art but, if you would like to be entertained with good cheesy kung fu action, this movie could be for you. So outrageous it was one of the most memorable films I watched as a child. I don't want to give away too much. A flying guillotine, is a sort of hat box attached to a rope. Thrown like a Frisbee, it settles on a person's head then, with a quick tug it swiftly slices it off. The device is then yanked back like a returning yo-yo as the headless corpse drops to the ground. A Shaw Brothers classic.
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Unpredictable Surprise...
cyguration13 March 2022
It's baffling to me that this film is put within the same circle as The One-Armed Boxer and its sequel, Master of the Flying Guillotine (which ironically came out a year after this film), when this film couldn't be anymore unlike One-Armed Boxer. Worse yet is that the latter film seems to have a higher average rating than The Flying Guillotine, which is befuddling. Why? Because the films are leagues apart in terms of quality.

One-Armed Boxer is a sometimes gory, non-stop action fight-fest with ridiculous over-the-top characters and scenarios, sporting equally ridiculous fight scenes. The Flying Guillotine is actually a far more grounded film with more realized, three-dimensional characters who each have their own motivations. The world they inhabit is fully realized and it's hard not to understand the plight they're in given their situation (and their family's situation).

Because The Flying Guillotine has a more realistic portrayal of soldiers and their place in the hierarchy of an imperial monarchy, they aren't larger-than-life heroes, but rather average guys with specialized training in mastering the custom-made flying guillotine, which is really quite the device.

The film follows various characters, most of whom are part of the 12 selected soldiers hand-picked to train using the flying guillotine. A decent portion of the film is dedicated to the complexity and learning curve surrounding mastering the weapon. It's not like Kung Lao's razor-bladed hat from Mortal Kombat that just slices through everything, bounces off of objects like Captain America's shield and then magically returns to the thrower. No, instead the device is controlled by a chain. When thrown the device -- which does look like a hat -- lands on its target where a veil drops down; at the bottom of the veil is a chakram, which usually is neck length with the victim. Within the chakram are razor blades. When the chain is pulled the retracted blades then protract, cutting through whatever is inside the chakram's radius, and if it happens to be someone's neck, then their head goes flying in a spectacular decapitation.

There aren't a whole lot of fights in the film, and the ones that do take place aren't very long, because... well, the flying guillotine usually makes quick work of whoever is unlucky enough to get hit by it. This actually adds a lot of weight to the film. Once you see that guillotine come out, you can be guaranteed someone will lose their head!

With lots of treachery, backstabbing, paranoia, and constant fear running rampant through the people who reside in the land (and especially those closest to the emperor), it gives the film this unnerving tension. The characters all know that they may not be long for the world, and the film reminds you constantly of how dangerous their lives are. It's a film that doesn't shy away from the fact that every action comes with hefty consequences. It also lightly touches on (rather critically) how perilous it is to live under a tyrannical emperor. I was a bit taken aback that the film would portray a Chinese ruler in such a negative light (without making him comically evil or monstrously villainous).

The flying guillotine itself may be something of a sci-fi element to the film, but everything else about the film is extremely grounded. In fact, if it were remade today by a competent writer/director and matched with compelling performances by a dedicated cast, it could easily end up being an award-winning film, and that's no joke nor an exaggeration. Interestingly enough, I doubt most kung-fu (or wuxia, if you want to be pedantic) aficionados will take to this film as much as K-drama enthusiasts. Why? Because it's a lot more moody, morally gray, and light on the actual hand-to-hand technique to appeal to some traditional martial arts fans.

However, if you wanted to see a compelling film about living life under the constant threat of death by a paranoid and power-hungry ruler, and enjoy some devilishly inventive uses of the flying guillotine along the way with gripping action sequences where every move (and counter) means something, then The Flying Guillotine is well worth a watch. Very highly recommended.
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