A small-town syndicated television station had clearly purchased an assortment of foreign import motion pictures that were heavily seeded with – I say this with no disrespect intended – all things ‘chopsocky.’ Drunken Master this, Bastard Swordsman that, Invincible Demons the other. Honestly, the titles were occasionally so damn bizarre I’d stick with it just because I wanted to know definitively how ‘the wife of the Deadly Master Beggar’ truly played into the plot. The station would run these things on Sunday afternoon – I think under the banner of ‘Kung Fu Theater’ – and I couldn’t help myself but be swept away in some of the most captivating fight choreography ever put to film.
Granted, there wasn’t an awful lot of it that I loved. The stories were pretty loose, and they often resembled one another in terms of narrative structure, much like the U.S. Westerns of a certain era did. Still, they were wonderful diversions from chores – and a good reason to put off homework for a few hours – so they kept my interest just enough to stay tuned.
So I may’ve seen Flying Guillotine Part II (aka Palace Carnage) back then. I know I’ve seen the dreaded ‘flying guillotine’ before – I have memories of a mild variation of the weapon – so I didn’t go into this viewing entirely unprepared. Yes, it’s a bit of a silly weapon when you think too long about it, but for me I think that’s the beauty of these bygone flicks: they worked best when you didn’t dwell on them and, instead, just got lost in all of the visual spectacle. Audiences certainly did back in their release in the native countries, so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging:
“To fight against the evil emperor’s reign of terror, outlaw rebel Ma Teng joins a group of female freedom fighters; however, she soon finds herself embroiled in not just a battle with enemy forces but also with the group leader’s torn family loyalties …”
In all honesty, there’s a bit more plot to Flying Guillotine Part II than one might find in a standalone entry. (No, you need not possess working knowledge of the first feature involving said weapon to step into this one; the script for this installment gives you everything you truly need to know.) But if you set aside some of the other family relationships tied up in here – along with some of the internal palace shenanigans – you’re still left with what starts out, churns along, and ends up being a film of heavily choreographed showdowns between the forces of good and the forces of evil.
Dick Cheney is salivating.
Naturally, some hero eventually masterminds a means with which to thwart such a vile weapon, and that’s wherein the whole ‘Part II’ comes into narrative play: the evil Emperor demands that his armorer re-design the guillotine in order to outsmart this new rebel, leading to the development of the – ahem – double flying guillotine (patent pending).
If you think therein starts and stops the film’s creativity, then you’d be amiss. At one point, Guillotine II felt like a near non-stop assault on the senses, with fights coming quickly one right after the other; but the pace does grind down just a bit in the second half when the tale truly shifts to one founded more on palace intrigue than the usual fisticuffs. Also, once the double flying guillotine gets introduced, our film’s hero must go back to his own drawing board and spend time figuring out a way to best this new version.
Before is said and done, however, heads do roll – just the way directors Kang Cheng and Shan Hua intended.
Flying Guillotine Part 2 (aka Palace Carnage) (1978) was produced by Shaw Brothers. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the fine folks at 88 Films. As for the technical specifications? Again, I’m not a trained video expert, but I found the sights and sounds of this Limited Edition Release to be very, very good: there are a few sequences with some very obvious grain, and I suspect that’s tied to the source material.
As for the special features? Well …
- The case comes with a cardboard slipcase/sleeve with original Hong Kong poster art.
- The limited edition includes a two-sided poster art which also ties in with the slipcase advertising.
- The limited edition includes a collector’s booklet with film stills and an essay by Barry Forshaw.
- The disc includes the film’s original theatrical trailer.
- Lastly, there’s an audio commentary provided by Asian cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema that – to put it mildly – is simply far too animated to glean much effective information (for those who like to learn things more than trivia). They’re both far too excited, speaking much too quickly, and talking over one another too much of the time for my tastes. It’s great that they’re thrilled … but I learned very little other than the fact that they’re thrilled. Disappointing.
As I said above, I was never so much a fan of traditional martial arts films as I was a basic consumer, but I can see some strong reasons to recommended Flying Guillotine Part II. First, it follows the basic formula. Second, it ups the ante on what was possible with one of filmdom’s most creative weapons. Third, it has a frenetic energy that never quite lets up (except in a few key places). While it might not be deserving a repeat viewing (so far as this consumer is concerned), it has the goods to be in your video line-up.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at 88 Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Flying Guillotine Part II (1978) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.