Amazing gimmick weapons are among the greatest of all martial arts tropes, and the “Flying Guillotine”, a throwable bladed instrument that decapitates those unlucky enough to be on the receiving end, is among the finest examples.
After the success of 1975’s Flying Guillotine, actor-director (and ex-Shaw Bros bad boy) Jimmy Wang Yu quickly lifted the concept to make 1976’s Master of the Flying Guillotine, arguably the best and most popular take on the concept. It was a sequel not to Flying Guillotine, but to his classic One-Armed Boxer. Another guillotine-themed film, The Fatal Flying Guillotines starring Carter Wong, followed the next year.
The Shaws’ official followup, which is also known under the title Palace Carnage, wouldn’t arrive until 1978, and without original director Ho Meng-Hua, who was succeeded by Cheng Kang and Hua Shan. The film works entirely on its own and requires no prior knowledge of the other film with only light connections. The first film’s key conceptual weapons, Flying Guillotine and and Iron Umbrella, are quickly reintroduced, as are the carryover characters, heroic rebel Ma Teng and ruthless Emperor Yung Cheng — both recast as Ti Lung and Ku Feng, respectively.
As the evil emperor’s oppression and cruelly authoritarian rule increase, so too does the rebellion against him, and the creation of the Iron Umbrella — a weapon capable of defending against the previously unstoppable Flying Guillotines — lifts the people’s spirits and puts a check on the emperor’s seemingly limitless power.
This escalation leads to a wilder, perhaps sillier, and definitely more entertaining sequel. The emperor commissions the creator of the Flying Guillotine to come up with a new top secret weapon to turn the tide, resulting in an improved double-tiered guillotine concept that can continue to its target even after being stopped by an Iron Umbrella. On screen, it rather hilariously “hops” forward onto the victim’s head when the first tier is engaged or defended, rendering the iron umbrella ineffective.
The Flying Guillotine is an already absurd concept that works mostly because of how entertaining it is to watch, rather than having any actual real-world credibility as a weapon. In reality these awkward weapons would be heavy, difficult to use, and easy to dodge. The improved redesign throws out real-world logic altogether, purely going for movie magic and mostly working.
With the empire wary of treachery and ever suspicious of spies, the rebels land on a unique plan for winning the Emperor’s trust. An elite band of female warriors (led by Shih Szu) vies for the honor of joining the palace guards, their bold act of feminism drawing attention and disarming other concerns, especially after they win the Emperor’s favor.
These fun elements of a female espionage squad and one-upmanship of increasingly ludicrous weapons make the film even more entertaining —if dumber — than the original, culminating in a thrilling last stand in which the rebels raid the palace — the “palace carnage” of the film’s alternative title.
As usual many Shaw regulars feature among the cast in both major and minor roles. While I’ve long appreciated Shaw films, it’s only in seeing several in short succession that I’ve come to recognize and appreciate this — an actor who’s a main character in one film might have a bit part in the next. While I’m sure this probably frustrated the actors, as a viewer it’s rewarding to start recognizing these studio players.
For martial arts and especially Shaw Bros fans, this Blu-ray is a must-have. For others, it’s a pretty solid one to dip your toes in on, despite the “II” in the title.
88 Films’ release of Flying Guillotine II is handsomely packaged in the house style, with a Criterion-style case and double-sided cover featuring new art by by R. P. “Kung Fu Bob” O’Brien as well as the classic poster design.
The disc is initially released as a limited edition package with exclusive extras: a handsome matte slipcover with the new artwork, a full color booklet written by Barry Forshaw (24 pages cover to cover), and a folded poster. Like the Blu-ray artwork, it is double-sided featuring both the new and classic artwork.
Special Features and Extras
While the package is heavy on physical extras, the on-disc supplements are on the light side. A new commentary is complemented by the film’s trailer.
The film includes both the original Mandarin track and an English dub.
Feature Commentary — Mike Leeder and Arne Venema partner up for a conversational expert commentary with lots of knowledge, some laughs, and no dead space.
Original Trailer (3:33) — High-definition scan of a theatrical 35mm trailer — Mandarin with English subtitles
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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.