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Flying Guillotine Part II
Also known as Palace Carnage, 1978's Flying Guillotine Part II is a mess of a movie, a fact that surely wasn't helped by the fact that it had at least two directors working on it at different times once Ho Meng-Hua, the director of the original 1975 film Flying Guillotine decided he didn't want anything to do with a sequel. On top of that, various cast members from the original weren't too keen on reprising their roles, or just happened to completely vanish off the face of the Earth before cameras started rolling. Never ones to look a sure thing in the eye, the producers at Shaw Brothers got how Cheng Kang and then Hua Shan to step in and fill Ho Meng-Hua's rather large shoes, and the results are…. Ridiculous, and ridiculously entertaining.
The story begins when a few surviving members of the Han clan do their best to stand up to Emperor Yung Cheng (Ku Feng). It doesn't end so well, but then we meet Ma Teng (Ti Lung), a former flying guillotine using assassins who teams up with them in hopes of helping them take down the evil Emperor. Likewise, the Emperor would love to see Ma Teng taken out of the picture, permanently and to do this, he makes some improvements to the titular weapon because he knows Ma Teng has mastered the first version. Also, he's got an iron umbrella, which will make it tough to chop of his head with the titular weapon (essentially a hat box on a chain with some blades inside).
Thrown into the mix is lovely Na Lan (Shih Szu), whose mother was killed by the Emperor's crew. She wants nothing more than cold, bloody revenge and will do whatever it takes to ensure that she gets it. She sneaks her way into the Emperor's grounds to try and swipe the plans for the improved flying guillotine for Ma Teng. Then, a bit later, Lo Lieh shows up and everyone spends the rest of the movie fighting.
This one is decidedly light on plot and star Ti Lung disappears for long stretches of time, often not having much to do with the plot at all, but Flying Guillotine Part II is still a lot of fun, even if it is pretty nonsensical. When Ti Lung is on screen, he's his typically effortlessly cool self and he's pretty fun to watch, but the facto of the matter is that he just isn't in the movie all that much. Thankfully Shih Szu is there to carry the movie in his absence. Yes, she's quite attractive but more important than that is the fact that she's got plenty of charisma, great screen presence and the ability to handle herself really well during the action scenes that she's a part of. Ku Feng is pretty solid as the bad guy and, not surprisingly, the movie is gold anytime the mighty Lo Lieh shows up, but even if the story is a mess and the direction is all over the place, Flying Guillotine Part II turns out to be a solid showcase for Shih Szu's skills and considerable charm.
What the movie might lack in a good plot, it make up for with plenty of crazy, wanton violence. There are scores of flying guillotines in this movie and they are used frequently throughout the movie. You'll lose count of how many heads get cut off in the movie, and it's a gimmick that never really gets old. The fights come fast and furious and with a pretty solid frequency, and they get pretty bloody at times. Add this to the Shaw Brothers' typically good production qualities, the film's garish color scheme and a fairly unpredictable tone and Flying Guillotine Part II, for all its many and obvious flaws, turns out to be a really entertaining movie.
88 Films brings Martial Club to Region A/B Blu-ray framed in 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition with the feature taking up 29.3GBS of space on a 50GB disc. Taken from an "HD transfer from the original negative" and nicely restored, this transfer is stronger than those seen on some of the other Shaw Brothers Blu-ray releases that have come out in the last couple of years. Detail is quite strong and there's good depth and texture. Aside from some minor crush in a few of the darker, indoor sequence things shape up quite nicely. Colors look great and skin tones appear lifelike and natural throughout. There aren't any obvious issues with edge enhancement problems or compression problems and if any noise reduction has been applied here, it's very light as the image is never particularly waxy, just maybe a tiny bit smoother than you might expect.
24-bit DTS-HD Mono options are provided in both the both Chinese and English options with English subtitles provided that translate the Chinese track. The default Chinese track plays best as it suits the film more and it sounds quite clean with no audible issues. The English track is fun in the goofy sort of way that dubbed tracks tend to be for older Shaw Brothers movies.
Extras start off with a brand new audio commentary with Asian cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. The go over the alternate Palace Of Carnage title, the film's original Chinese title and its meaning, the history of the flying guillotine weapon and the different movies that use it and how the chaos of the shoot for this movie resulted in something special. They talk about how Cheng Kang and Hua Shan came to work on the movie, the casting of the movie and why it turned out the way it did, the state of film preservation in Hong Kong over the years and the Shaw Brothers archive, some of the interesting plot and character details that pop up in the movie, the quality of the scope photography and why some scenes look different than others, the sheer amount of heads that get popped off in the movie and quite a bit more. There's no dead air here, these guys really get into it and deliver a solid track full of useful information and interesting analysis.
Finishing up the extras on the disc is an original theatrical trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection options. The packaging for this is nice as well, we get some reversible cover sleeve artwork featuring newly created artwork by Kung Fo Bob O'Brien on one side and the original poster art on the reverse. Both of these images are used on the folded up mini-poster included inside the case. The limited edition slipcover uses that same newly created artwork on the front. Packaged inside the case with the disc are a limited edition collector's booklet that contains a nice selection of behind the scenes photos and lobby cards as well as an essay on the movie by critic/author Barry Forshaw titled Watch Out For The Flying Guillotine!.
Flying Guillotine Part II is as entertaining as it is completely bonkers. It doesn't always make a whole lot of sense but it's got a great cast, a load of ridiculously entertaining set pieces and more heads getting popped off of their bodies than you can shake a stick at. 88 Films' Blu-ray release isn't as stacked with extras as some of their other Shaw titles, but the commentary is very good, the packaging quite nice and more importantly, the presentation very good. Recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.