In 1975, Shaw Brothers Studio released The Flying Guillotine. It is about an elite group of guards to the emperor trained in the use of a, well, a flying guillotine. This was based on actual history. Well, there are indications in history that during the Qing dynasty, the Yung Cheng Emperor employed the use of a flying guillotine. It is more of a myth than actual history; no one knows if such a thing existed or what it might have looked like. In reality, it would have been nearly impossible to build and its usefulness in actual combat seems pretty minuscule, but for the movies, it is pretty dang cool. For the Flying Guillotine, the thing looks a little like a hat box. A hat box made of metal with razor blades on its side and attached to a chain. The user throws it over a person’s head, then pulls one of the chains which releases a mesh net that goes over the head. Another pull of the chain brings out another set of saws and off goes the head.
The movie was a huge hit and eventually spawned this sequel (called Flying Guillotine Part II here, but it is also known as Palace Carnage). Plagued by production problems it didn’t get released until 1978. In the meantime, two unofficial sequels were released, Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976) and Fatal Flying Guillotine (1977), and numerous other rip-offs came after. The flying guillotine can be seen in various other films made ever since including in a very modified form in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
The production problems with the sequel included several changes to the key players. Ho Meng-Hwa, the director of the original film, had no interest in a sequel (though he did direct The Dragon Missle (1976) which employed flying guillotine-type weapons so go figure) and so Cheng Kang was hired. He left halfway through the shoot and Hua Shen then took over. Chen Kuan Tai and Liu Wu Chi, stars of the original film, were set to reprise their roles but both dropped out. Liu Wu Chi quite literally disappeared from the set and was never heard from again. (In the audio commentary it is lightly insinuated that she may have been murdered by someone working for the Shaws!) Kuan Tai left over the creative difference. Three different screenwriters worked on the script and ultimately this sequel has very little to do with the original film. Call it a spiritual sequel if you call it anything.
With all of that behind-the-scenes drama, you’d think the film would be an utter mess. Well, it is a bit of a mess, but it is also quite enjoyable. The story involves an evil emperor (Feng Ku – who was in the original film though his character was killed off, here his hair keeps changing styles with somewhat hilarious results) who uses the flying guillotine to keep his subjects in check. A group of rebels have developed an anti-guillotine device that looks like a spikey, metal umbrella. The emperor then creates a double flying guillotine. The rebels then have to create a device to stop the double guillotine but at this point, the film loses interest in this never-ending cycle and moves on.
The rebels hatch various plans to assassinate the emperor. The most interesting one is sending in Na Lan (Shi Szu) as the leader of a new pink-clad, ladies-only Flying Guillotine Squad. She also happens to be the daughter of one of the emperor’s many generals. The ladies pretend to be loyal to the emperor all the while secretly trying to get close enough to kill him. There is espionage, palace intrigue, and lots and lots of carnage. The action is not particularly well staged, though I do enjoy it when they throw a ton of bodies into the mix. It is a lot of fun to watch, not the main fighters but the guys in the background just flailing around. The editing is a bit choppy and the cinematography involves a lot of hand-held cameras, all of which give it an interesting DIY quality.
The final fight is delirious and utter chaos. The double flying guillotine does come out as does the defensive weapon. I’m not sure how either of them is really supposed to work, and the guillotine is rather ridiculous in nature. Also awesome. The first film was rather plot-heavy only employing action and the guillotine sparingly. Flying Guillotine Part II takes the opposite approach with a plot that feels like it was thrown together by multiple writers through a difficult production (which of course is exactly what it was) and action sequences somewhat sloppily but regularly applied. The end result is not good exactly, but good god, it sure is fun.
88 Fims presents Flying Guillotine Part II with a nice-looking 1080p transfer. Extras include new artwork for the Blu-ray cover and a nice double-sided poster. There is an audio commentary with Asian cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. They don’t so much discuss what’s going on in the film as having a varied and entertaining chat about all things kung fu cinema. There is also a nice booklet with an essay and a trailer for the film.