There is something refreshingly awesome about a film that starts with a blind monk practicing kung fu, decapitating chickens, and exploding his house after receiving a brail message, by carrier, informing him of his students death.
Such is the start of Jimmy Wang Yus One Armed Boxer vs. The Master of the Flying Guillotine. A sequel to the largely forgettable 1971 movie One Armed Boxer this 1975 film is probably the best film that Wang Yu would make even surpassing 1976s One Armed Swordsman in terms of sheer ingenuity and style.
Set in a time of political turmoil an imperial decree has created a sect of rebel hunters who use a peculiar weapon which is essentially a hat on a leash with teeth. This unique weapon when thrown lands around the victims head and cuts it off at the neck.
The blind monk, Fu Sing Wu Chi, introduced at the start is one such rebel hunter and is out to avenge his fallen students who died at the hand of famed one armed boxer Yu Tieh-lun. Unfortunately for the armless populace the monk doesnt have a name and as such is inclined to kill anyone missing an arm.
Such a simple framework would undoubtedly be enough for a solid Kung Fu movie, but its only through the introduction of a second element that the film manages to make even the most violence obsessed a little bit kung fu fatigued.
Amidst all of the decapitations a martial arts tournament is taking place which pretty much dominates the 2nd act of the movie and is essentially eight or so fights with little or no gap between them. As well as showcasing a plethora of martial arts styles and weapons, including some pretty nice Naginata work and monkey kung fu, it sets up the fodder for later on in the movie.
Amongst the entrants are a Thai knife fighter, an Indian fakir who can extend his arms, and a Japanese karate expert with the name Wins Without A Knife who uses tonfa batons and rather bizarrely a knife.
These characters serve as sub-bosses in the movie, forcing the one armed boxer to ply his trade while withholding the confrontation between him and the monk to the last act.
Jimmy Wang Yu not only directs but stars as The One Armed Boxer and in my view he is probably the one weak link in the movie. His prowess as a martial artist is visibly lacking and despite some nice techniques and some great editing it is very apparent that his lack of skill, in comparison to the rest of the crew, is being worked around.
The real star of the film is of course the Monk played with chilling ruthlessness by Kang Kam. The monk is essentially the kung fu variant of the terminator, unstoppable in his quest and unbeatable with his guillotine.
However despite Wang Yus fighting chops his invention is top notch as is his direction. The major fights are not your typical kinds of fight, again probably to accommodate his less than graceful movements, and are largely about invention than lightning quick moves. Key examples are a fight in what is essentially a room sized oven and the final battle in a coffin shop complete with spring loaded hatchets.
His talents as a director are far more impressive and even on horrible versions of the movie you can still see his flair for set design and iconic imagery. Special mention must be made to the music, in particular the monks theme which is both iconic and wonderfully fitting.
Id call this film a guilty pleasure, but I think it transcends that to be honest. The film is really well made, the fights are fun to watch, and the characterisation warrants at least a little respect.