Thursday, October 3, 2013

Master of the Flying Guillotine

Two Saturdays ago, I returned to the New Parkway Theater in Oakland.  If my records are correct, that visit (September 21) was my first of 2013.  The New Parkway and Soja co-hosted a screening of Master of the Flying Guillotine.  What is Soja?  According to its website, "Soja Martial Arts builds bodies, minds, and spirits. Our workouts provide fun, vigorous, health-oriented martial arts & yoga for both kids & adults."  Soja is located at 368 24th Street (across Broadway from New Parkway).

The Soja representative introduced the film and stated he had about 25 kung fu/martial arts films selected for future screenings.  He hoped the screenings could be monthly or periodic events.

Master of the Flying Guillotine starring Jimmy Wang Yu & Kam Kong; directed by Jimmy Wang Yu; Mandarin with subtitles; (1976)

The film was projected from a regular DVD and the images weren't very sharp.

I have a conflicted relationship with kung fu films.  I want to like and have liked a few but in general, I quickly grow bored by them.  I think that sums up my thoughts about Master of the Flying Guillotine (aka One Armed Boxer 2, aka One Armed Boxer vs the Flying Guillotine).

Slightly better than most kung fu films, MotFG has a number of things which has made it a legendary film.  Foremost is the aforementioned flying guillotine.  Imagine a beekeepers helmet with a metal collar attached to a long chain.  The weapon is thrown like a frisbee with the goal of landing it on someone's head.  A yank of the chain results in blades in the collar being deployed and the head being decapitated. The helmet is there to contain the decapitated head; otherwise it would roll away.

Kam Kong portrays the eponymous master of the weapon despite being blind. With a flowing white beard, his hair inexplicably changes from equally white and long to short and black. It wouldn't surprise me if the wig was lost or damaged during filming. Clearly serving as partial or full inspiration for Pai Mai in Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 2, Kam Kong's Fung Sheng Wu Chi is a dyspeptic and dogged avenger.  His disciples have sent him a message that they are about to be killed by a one armed boxer.  This backstory is actually the plot to One Armed Boxer (1971).    The initial scene shows Fung destroying his shack high up in the mountains after learning of his disciples' deaths.  That act of destruction seems a little extreme but does establish he has some grenade like devices and a bad temper.  Fung scours the land; seemingly killing every one armed man he encounters.

In the meantime, the one armed boxer (Jimmy Wang Yu) has opened an academy, does some neat gravity defying tricks and is eventually persuaded by his students to attend a martial arts tournament.  This tournament doesn't advance the plot much and actually takes up quite a bit of screen time but was the most enjoyable portions of the film.  Displaying (presumably) Chinese stereotypes of Thai, Japanese and Indians, the fightt scenes are quite a bit of fun as they show different styles of martial arts in a fight to the death format which has been duplicated countless times since.  Eventually Fung shows up with grenades and kills the tournament host.  After that, the film began to lose my interest.  Doris Lung is the daughter of the murdered tourney host and she vows revenge on Fung.  The Japanese fighter is interested in her.  The Thai fighter (who habitually) spits teams up with Fung to find the one-armed boxer.  The Indian yogi (who can extend his arms to ridiculous proportions) gets killed somehow.

At some point after the tournament scenes, I realized this was not a very good movie.  Jimmy Wang Yu, who also directed the film, is surprisingly uncharismatic as the hero.  Given his well publicized extramarital affairs,  arrest for murder in Taiwan and general bad boy reputation, I would have expected a more outrageous performance.  Wang (the actor) appears to have subsumed his role at the instructions of Wang (the director).  The three "foreigners" and Kam Kong get all the flashy lines and scenes.  I won't use the word "memorable" because ultimately, large portions of the film are forgettable.

Wang also used a soundtrack that sounded like an 1980s slasher film (also called Krautrock) - heavy on electronic synthesizers and long, drawn out notes.  In signature Wang fashion, he didn't secure the music rights from the bands (including Tangerine Dream) and distribution in Western countries was delayed for many years.

Kam Kong, Krautrock and the trio of the foreign killers were the highlights of Master of the Flying Guillotine.


A few things about the New Parkway and Oakland.  In desperate need of caffeine, I ordered a cup at the theater it was quite good.  I find coffee is too often over-roasted for my tastes.  The New Parkway serves a more mellow blend.  A sign in the lobby stated they served Bicycle Coffee.

I took BART, exited at the 19th Street Station and walked the rest of the way.  As I walked back after the film, I noticed an Ike's Place and it was open.  Having never sampled one of the famous sandwiches at this establishment, I stopped in.  The Oakland location was technically called Ike's Lair.  I don't know what distinguishes Ike's Place from Ike's Lair.  It's located at 2204 Broadway and is near the intersection of 22nd and Franklin.  Despite the empty streets at that time, there was a line of people waiting to get a sandwich at 5 PM on a Saturday.  I ordered the Paul Reubens.  It wasn't bad but frankly, I don't see what makes it so great that people would stand in line for.  I may have to return and try some more of their sandwiches.

While eating my sandwich outside (there is no indoor seating but there are outdoor tables), I noticed an Umamiburger across the street.  That's another place I have heard about but never been.  When I grew up, I was taught there were four basic types of taste sensations - sour, bitter, sweet and salty.  Combining those in various proportions created complex flavors.  The Japanese have a fifth type - umami.  It's been commonly accepted in Japan for many years but the concept has made inroads in the US.  I have never identified a food as having umami flavor.  The name Umamiburger pretty much sums up the concept of the restaurant.  I'm very curious as to what an umamiburger tastes like.  The Umamiburger is located at 2100 Frankllin in Oakland and open 7 days a week.

The Uptown neighborhood of Oakland appears to be on the upswing. 

No word yet on the next kung fu movie at the New Parkway.

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