The Fatal Flying Guillotines (1977)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2009-07-01
The doting mother of a favorite son and her sometimes malignant influence on him that lives longer than she does has been a part of the plot and theme of dramatic narrative works, including film, for as long as they have existed. In movies there are the outright evil mothers--"The Manchurian Candidate" with Angela Landsbury, "Carrie" with Piper Laurie--while Pedro Almovodar and Woody Allen have made the interfering mother, often appearing from beyond the grave or as an inconvenient fantasy, part of their stock in trade. In Hong Kong martial arts movies one of mom's functions is to provide another level of conflict for her son. Having trained since early childhood to be a kung fu artist he now is forced to stand aside from actual combat because only an ungrateful dog of a son would ignore a mother's dying request.

This is one of the myriad trials that face Carter Wong in “The Fatal Flying Guillotines”, but while it may be the most heart wrenching it isn’t the most deadly. That is flying guillotine of the title, controlled by the demented and feared Chen Mo Chao. He is a martial arts master who lives in a clearing in the forest waiting to be attacked by the minions of his enemies so that he can kill them with his fearsome machine. The guillotine itself has advanced technologically from the one used in "Master of the Flying Guillotine". In addition to being motorized and with a tracking device it also has whirling blades on the outside so the victim can be slashed with a near miss although the final coup de grace is always a severed head.

Warriors are sent to be slaughtered by Chen Mo Chao because his enemies fear he may attack them, moving from his perch in the wilderness to gain vengeance for... well for something they did to him. They send a typical group of brave and skilled but doomed young men to meet their fate against impossible odds, much like the charge of the Light Brigade in Crimea or the Polish cavalry charges against German tanks during World War II.

Shen Ping (Carter Wong) issues with his mother because he feels he killed her while doing his best to cure a disease that was sapping her life. The formula for the medicine is in a book which is in a monastery which is guarded by an order of warrior monks. Instead of working to heal the sick and ease their suffering these monks, led by the evil abbot, force anyone who wants the miracle medicine to fight his way to it. Shen Ping tries unsuccessfully then broods on his defeat by the abbot—which is only one of the three ordeals he must go through in. He visualizes the abbots lightning like strikes and then works to imitate them on a dummy in a typical and not very interesting training sequence.

He is able to defeat the abbot and get the sacred book—he get the book itself, not just a prescription from it—but on the way home he is attacked by an ninja and thrown from a cliff into a river below. Struggling home he mixes the potion described in the book. His mother has an amazing recovery but suddenly begins spitting blood. It is while dying that she extracts the deathbed promise from Shen Ping not to be a fighter. He pledges to honor her last wish but realizes almost immediately that he is a finely trained kung fu fighter who is surrounded by enemies who want to kill him—or so Carter Wong tries to communicate with a wrinkled brow and tightly clenched teeth.

It is the right decision since he is set upon by multiple enemies in each case having to fight several attackers alone. Swordsmen, polefighters and kung fu monks arrive in platoons. He is able to defeat them all, in each case using the weapons as their specialty, in some decently but never outstandingly choreographed and executed action scenes.

Ultimately Shen Ping must face Chen Mo Chao and his terrifying guillotine. He does and defeats him even though the wily Chen is formidable without his weapon, being a master of hand to hand combat. The movie ends with Chan Sing, vanquished and dying, staggering around like the blind Lear on the moor after Cordelia has hanged herself.

There is plenty of clumsy action choreography in this movie. It has lots of action but often looks slapped together without much rehearsal. There are some good set pieces like Chan Sing jumping into the air and landing on the swords of the three men sent to arrest him but also a great deal of obvious swinging and missing in the fights, all made worse by undercranking them egregiously.
Reviewer Score: 5