Flying Guillotine 2 [清宮大刺殺] (1978)
AKA Flying Guillotine Part II, Palace Carnage
Starring Ti Lung, Shih Szu, Ku Feng, Lo Lieh, Wai Wang, Shih Chung-Tien, Nancy Yen Nan-See, Lau Luk-Wah, Wong Chung, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheng Kang-Yeh, Ku Kuan-Chung, Chan Sze-Kai, Ching Miao, Ku Wen-Chung, Yang Chi-Ching, Shum Lo, Wang Han-Chen, Keung Hon, Lau Wai-Ling, Shih Ping-Ping, Chan Mei-Hua
Directed by Cheng Kang & Hua Shan
Expectations: High, I really enjoyed the first one.
I hope no one has been holding their breath for my next Shaw Brothers review! It’s been almost an entire year since I’ve written anything (the 1976–1977 Top 10 List was posted 9/28/18 😳 ), and for that I apologize. The good news is that I’ve had some life changes recently, and they should allow me the free time necessary to keep up my old pace of once-a-week Shaw Brothers reviews. Thanks for sticking around! Anyway, onto the review!
On the surface, Flying Guillotine 2 seems like it can do no wrong. It’s a sequel to Ho Meng-Hua’s 1975 smash-hit The Flying Guillotine (also one of Ho’s best films), it stars the electric Ti Lung, and it boasts directorial credits from Cheng Kang, always impressive & dependable, and Hua Shan, a less-skilled director but one that knows his way around crafting a fun film (See: The Super Inframan). Upon watching Flying Guillotine 2, though, all of these elements are very clearly separate and not exactly working together as they should. The story and “our star” Ti Lung are barely there, and the film was clearly saddled with lots of production issues. The resolute, strong style of Cheng Kang is sprinkled throughout, but the bulk of the film is very obviously not up to his usual standards. Apparently, Cheng left part-way through filming, as did the stars of the original film — Chen Kuan-Tai and Liu Wu-Chi. Hua Shan and Ti Lung came in to salvage what they could, but you can only do so much with such a fractured filmmaking journey. (If you’re interested in a more detailed account of this, make sure to check out the film’s review on Cool Ass Cinema!)
The barely there story of Flying Guillotine 2 can be boiled down to this: the Emperor (Ku Feng) is still after Ma Tang (Ti Lung), but he needs to improve the flying guillotine since Ma Tang devised a way to defeat the deadly weapon. Meanwhile, the daughter of an Imperial official, Na Lan (Shih Szu), infiltrates the Imperial Flying Guillotine Academy in an effort to steal the blueprints for Ma Tang. In two sentences, I’ve described the plot of essentially the entire film. The Imperials say, “We gotta catch those rebels!” and the rebels conspire to fight the corrupt officials. That’s really all there is. Ma Tang is mostly off-screen in the background of the events, too, so the film neither has a story or a main hero. This would be fine if there were someone to take his place, and Na Lan sort of does, but the film actually focuses on the Emperor and his minions more than anything else.
What saves Flying Guillotine 2 from utter disaster is that, no matter what, it’s still super fun (provided you’re already in love with the Shaw Brothers style of filmmaking). The innovations to both the flying guillotine and its counter-weapon are fun and unique. Despite the otherwise poor writing, the characters are well-defined and deserve to be in a better, more complete film. I always enjoy Shih Szu’s work, and her character here, learning the new guillotine along with a bevy of her friends, is really fun and sets the film apart from others. Their flamboyant purple costumes only add to the charm. But above all, the most important element that keeps the film above water is the action.
Choreographed by Tang Chia, the action in Flying Guillotine 2 is excellent. That’s not to say that it doesn’t vary in quality like the rest of the movie (the two-minute slo-mo ending was a bit much), but on the whole it’s great stuff. Everything featuring Ti Lung is top-notch weapon work for the era, especially during the lengthy finale. It morphs through multiple stages, weapons and combatants, too, including some fantastic hand-to-hand interplay between Ti Lung and Ku Feng. Tang really gets to stretch his imagination with the film, as this one ventures deep into the wuxia territory that the original film only hinted at. I imagine this is due to the success of all the Chor Yuen films revitalizing the wuxia genre, but I don’t have any concrete evidence to support that.
Flying Guillotine 2 isn’t a great movie, but it is an action-packed sequel that remains enjoyable in spite of its faults. I have a feeling the film will play better a second time around when I’m not expecting a full-on Ti Lung movie, too. As the first film of 1978, it’s not the best debut, but that’s OK, Shaw released 20 other martial arts film that year, including some of the genre’s best and most treasured classics.
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is perhaps the most well-known of all the Shaw Brothers’ films: Lau Kar-Leung’s legendary 36th Chamber of Shaolin! See ya then, and let’s all cross our fingers it doesn’t take me another year to do it! 😛