Grindhouse Double Feature - Episode Six : Shogun Assassin and Master of the Flying Guillotine

Shogun Assassin

One of the most frenzied, furiously violent action packed samurai movies of all time. After a powerful shogun turns against his loyal samurai executioner, Ogami Itto (aka Lone Wolf), killing his wife, he swears on his honor to seek vengeance against his former master. On the run and seeking revenge with his young son in tow, he is forced to battle the Shogun's army of assassins. Shogun Assassin was actually edited and compiled from the first two films in the Lone Wolf and Cub (also known as the Baby Cart series), using 12 minutes from the first film, Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance and most of the second, Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx. There are six films in all in the Baby Cart series, themselves based on the long running manga (comic book) series.

The project was oversaw by academy award winning director Robert Houston and his partner David Weisman, after Weisman obtained the rights for $50,000 from Toho Studios. The filmmakers hired deaf lip readers to help compose new English langauge dialogue to match the lip movements of the original Japanese actors. As it was compiled from separate stories, elements of the plot were simplified and the gaps filled in by adding narration from Itto's son, Daigoro. A new electronic score and new sound effects were also added, although portions from the original soundtrack still remain. It has gone on to become an influential pop culture classic, with audio clips from it used on rapper GZA's album Liquid Swords and a mention in Kill Bill Vol. 2, as Uma Thurman's charater watches it with her daughter.

Master of the Flying Guillotine (aka One Armed Boxer Vs. the Master of the Flying Guillotine, Aka One Armed Boxer 2)

You can't really talk about Master of the Flying Guillotine without first talking a little about writer, director, star Jimmy Wang Yu. Born Wang Zheng-quan (also known under the names Wong Yu-lung and Wang Yue), Jimmy Wang Yu was once the top paid martial arts actor in Hong Kong. Arguably the first big international Hong Kong action film star. He rose to fame under the the auspices of director, Chang Cheh with the Shaw Brother Studio's martial arts classic, The One Armed Swordsman, in 1967. He solitified his Hong Kong film stardom with the film, The Chinese Boxer, in 1969. It's this film that is credited with kickstarting the unarmed martial arts combat genre of Hong Kong martial arts film.

However, Shortly afterwards Jimmy broke his contract with Shaw Brothers. Shaw Bothers quickly filed suit. The courts sided in the Shaw's favor, leading to Jimmy being banned from making movies in Hong Kong. However, Jimmy was able trade on the success of Chinese Boxer in hooking up with independent film companies like Golden Harvest and began writing, directing and producing his own films in Taiwan.

In 1976, Jimmy appeared along side a young up incoming actor named Jackie Chan in a the Lo Wei film Killer Meteors. What happened next has become the stuff of legend and it's nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction. Jackie was under contract to director Lo Wei, who was trying with little success to turn him into the next Bruce Lee. To make some cash Wei agreed to loan Jackie out to another studio on a two picture deal. The first film was Snake in the Eagles Shadow, which was an instant smash hit. The second was Drunken Master, which was an even bigger hit. After this success Jackie wanted to break away from Wei to go to Golden Harvest. Wei insisted that Jackie was still under contract with him and refused to release him. Jackie apparently breaks the contract and goes to film The Young Masters at Golden Harvest. An irate Lo Wei then uses his alleged links to organized crime to send Triads after Jackie. It is at this point that it's Jimmy Wang Yu who steps in and supposedly using his own Triad connections forces Lo Wei to back off, not only saving Jackie's career but for all extensive purposes saving his life. That's the story anyway, how much is true and how much is exaggeration is up for debate. What is known is that Jimmy was instrumental in helping Chan settle a dispute with director Lo Wei and that Jackie repaid the favor by appearing in two of Jimmy's films, Fantasy Mission Force, in 1982, and Island of Fire, in 1990.

Controversy dogged Jimmy for most of his career. On set reports described him as arrogant, egotistical, and misogynistic. Australia Director Brian Trenchard-Smith gives a detailed account of Wang Yu's antics on the set of The Man From Hong Kong in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood. His off-screen exploits included well-publicized accounts of torrid affairs, drunken bar brawls, and even a 1981 murder charge. The charge was eventually dropped though, due to al lack of evidence.

In 1975 Jimmy Wang Yu wrote and directed Master of the Flying Guillotine, as a sequel to his 1971 hit The One Armed Boxer (aka The Chinese Professionals). For the One Armed Boxer, Jimmy had leaned a bit on his past success by combining his characters from his two most popular films, The One Armed Swordsman and The Chinese Boxer. For the sequel, he decided to throw in the flying guillotine, a legendary weapon in Chinese history that had been introduced to movie audiences the year before by The Shaw Brothers in The Flying Guillotine.

The flying guillotine is a legendary Chinese weapon believed to originate from the time of the Yongzheng Emperor during the Qing Dynasty. The actual chinese name for weapon was Xue Di Zi, which in English translates to Blood Dripper. While there are stories and a few crude drawings detailing its possible appearance, no clear instructions on the weapons use or production are known to exist. The consensus is that they resembled a hat with a bladed rim with an attached long chain.Some accounts allege that it was thrown over a victims head, and retractable blades would cleanly decapitate them when the chain was pulled. However, there is also evidence that the weapon may have been used by being soaked with an intense poison, said to be so powerful it could kill another person "at the sight of a drop of blood", possibly explaining its Chinese name. Other experts believe that it's use as a weapon was simply too impractical. Instead it's more likely that the mysterious rumors and stories of it's existence may have served as the true weapon, in the form of fear and intimidation.

Master of the flying Guillotine is set in the year 1730 during the reign of Emperor Yun Cheng, an early ruler of Manchu Ching Dynasty. The Emperor has been employing a group of assassins to hunted and kill rebels allied with followers of the former Ming dynasty. The most notorious of these assassins is Fung Sheng Wu Chi, a blind martial arts master, whose weapon of choice is the legendary flying guillotine. As the film opens he learns that two of his disciples (the Tibetan lamas from the first One Armed Boxer film, as seen in flash back) were killed by one armed boxer, Liu Ti Lung, and sets out to take to take revenge.

Meanwhile, the One Armed Boxer is running his own martial arts school where he teaches his pupils such skills as walking on walls and ceilings, through the use of breath control. When he receives an invitation from the local Eagles Claw school to attend their martial arts tournament, he accepts the invitation, but only as a spectator. It is here that Fung finally tracks him down. The One Armed Boxer is forced into an inescapable conflict, where he quickly finds himself surrounded by enemies as three foreign competitors from the tournament, including a Thai kickboxer, an Indian yoga master with extendable arms, and a Japanese samurai ally themselves with the guillotine master.

While Jimmy was not a particularly accomplished martial artist and his acting ability was fairly limited, he did possess a certain amount of charisma on screen. And what Jimmy lacked in the martial art skill he made up for with his directing. He knew how camera techniques and clever film editing could be used to project the illusion of his invincible fighting skill. While the martial arts in his films are not as good or as fast as what can be found in other films of its time, Jimmy filmed fights in a way that’ was easy to follow and not overly-laden with flying acrobatics.

The fight scenes were choreographed by brothers Lau Kar-Leung and Lau Kar-Wing. Most of the fights are memorably creative and make good use of space, whether they're inside or out. A large chunk of the film is set at the tournament, which consists of no less than nine individual fights. These matches are quick and fun to watch with multipe styles and weapons on display, encompassing everything from poles, long spears, three-sectioned staff, knives, rope, swords, kickboxing, monkey, eagle claw, iron body, snake, and mantis style kung fu, as well as fighting on posts over a pit of blades. Interestingly enough, Wang Yu's One Armed Boxer character doesn't take part in any of the tournament, the films longest fight sequence. In fact his character doesn't lay a hand on anyone for half the film.

What really distinguishes Master of the Flying Guillotine is that it breaks with the rules of nobility and chivalry of most martial arts films. Where as the basic formula for most martial art film involved the stalwart hero overcoming the villain only after going off to train and learn some new fighting style, Jimmy's One Armed Boxer character simply uses cunning and deceit to lure his enemies into a trap. Some might call it cheating, although Sun Tzu would probably call excellent battle strategy.

Another thing that stands out is the soundtrack. The music in the film breaks the mold of other films in the genre that up to that point usually borrowed heavily from Spaghetti Westerns. Master of the Flying Guillotine went a different route and used tracks consisting of mostly ’70s era electronica from bands like Neu!, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream.

Master of the Flying Guillotine has a large cult following and a tremendous cultural influence. It laid out the formula for one of the greatest genres in the video game history : the tournament fighter. A decade after it's release it spawned dozens of games such as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Pit Fighter and Virtual Fighter. The comparisons between the character Dhalsim from the Street Fighter video game and the Indian assassin in the film are quite obvious. Clips from the film's soundtrack have been sampled by Wu Tang Clan and the film has been mentioned in their lyrics. Quentin Tarantino has cited the film as being one of his favorite movies of all time. In his film Kill Bill, he used the villain's theme music briefly when O-Ren Ishii appeared, as well as the film's protagonist's hiding on the ceiling in the same manner as the imperial assassin in this film.


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