1976 wuxia martial arts movie starring Jimmy Wang Yu. It is a sequel to his previous film, One Armed Boxer, but stands alone on its own.
It opens in the 1700s, with Qing dynasty supporter Fung Sheng Wu Chi, a blind assassin, getting a tablet via passenger pigeon informing him that his two disciples have been killed by the Ming Dynasty rebel supporter, the One Armed Boxer. In his anger he bursts out of his house by leaping through the roof, and then practices one last time with his flying guillotine weapon before torching the building he was hiding in, posing as a Buddhist lama. The flying guillotine looks like a beekeeper's hat on the end of a chain. When thrown it sounds like a gun riccochet, and when pulled back, the blades within the hat's collar extend and spin, decapitating the person it was thrown onto.
He torches the house to give his entire commitment to hunting down and killing the One Armed Boxer.
The soundtrack's leitmotif, an industrial music sounding electronic march beat punctuated by an analog synthesizer bass stab, is interrupted by the opening credit sequence, a punk song with no discernible vocals. (The title sequence also shows its other title, "One Armed Boxer vs the Flying Guillotine".
Meanwhile, the One Armed Boxer is leading a bunch of kung fu students, taking the time to show them a special technique, in which he can leap onto and walk on walls and even the ceiling (to a really neat analog synthesizer horror/sci-fi soundtrack).
They are excited when a runner comes in announcing Eagle Claw school is holding a tournament. The students beg him to go in and "win evvry prize" but he admonishes them - saying that the learning of kung fu is for spiritual discipline, not personal gain. But he is swayed by the suggestion that his students would learn from sparring with other schools, even though he is trying to lie low and not attract Qing attention. He agrees, but only if his students agree to not get into any trouble.
The tournament starts, with four combatants fighting with shields and clubs. They are interrupted by the appearance of a barefoot Thai boxer who rudely asks why he can't take part. When told that as a foreigner he's not welcome, he refuses to hear it. But the tournament organizer says that since one of the prerequisites is a life contract and foreigners can't sign one - he isn't going to deal with any fallout from him being killed. But if the foreigner can prove he has any degree of skill, he's welcome to enter. He proves it by kicking a stone dumbbell into the air barefoot, and then shattering it with a barefoot kick. His first bout is right away - with the four club weilding men, who he easily dispatches with Muay Thai.
The Eagle Claw school head's daughter insists on fighting him straight away as a matter of honor and he lets her strike the first blow, amazed when it shreds his clothing. The head steps in to interrupt the fight so as not to have his daughter injured, even though she is clearly holding her own.
The next day we see others arrive, but this includes the Qing operative Fung Sheng Wu Chi, sent by the government fearing Ming rebel activity. He arrives with a buzzcut and Buddhist robes complete with swastika. We also see a turbaned yogi (played by a Chinese in brownface) arrive.
Fung Sheng sits down with his vegetarian noodles, and monitors the crowd Daredevil style, twitching his large white eyebrows to indicate hearing. An unfortunate one armed drunk eats at another table and announces he's killed seven flies with one blow. When he tries to leave without paying, the proprietor tries to stop him but he pretends to be the One Armed Boxer to frighten everyone into letting him leave unmolested. This leads to Fung Sheng decapitating him with the guillotine, but the proprietor says it wasn't the real One Armed Boxer. Fung Sheng says he doesn't care. He will kill every one armed man he finds.
Meanwhile, the daughter of the Eagle Claw school head argues that she should be allowed to fight, and the head reluctantly agrees. She excitedly hopes that the One Armed Boxer shows up. The head notes that he's been invited, so hopefully he does even if it is just to watch.
The next day the tournament proper starts. There are poles set up as well as an open arena. Various fighters with various styles are shown to have lined up, awaiting selection via random draw to be paired off in mortal combat.
The first fight is between a three sectioned staff and quarterstaff. After the three section staff fighter breaks the quarterstaff with his weapon, the fight is soon over, with the death of the staff fighter.
The second fight is between a steel tonfa-armed fighter dressed as Raiden, and a man armed with a short, broad sword. Tonfas break the sword, and they lock up, only to find that the tonfas contain hidden spring-blades which extend and kill the unarmed swordfighter, whose corpse is quickly dragged away.
The third is between a "rope-haired" fighter and a Mongol (played by a Chinese in a fake Hercule Poirot moustache). The Mongol goes for an arm bar which is broken. Some blows later he tries a figure four leglock, only to have that also broken. The rope fighter goes for a strangulation via his hair, and succeeds, but only just. And then he keels over dead, as the Mongol managed to lift him overhead before dying - his fingers having ripped fatal holes in the fighter. Both are declared winners. In death.
The fourth is between a classic Kung Fu fighter and an "Iron Shirt" style strongman. The finesse fighter's kicks have no effect on the other man's invulnerability. Attempting multiple groin kicks, the makes the mistake of leaving his foot there too long. The bigger man traps him and breaks his leg. As he goes for the same move with his other leg and the strongman attempts to trap it, he demonstrates it's a ruse by suddenly standing up and driving his fingers through the eyes of the larger man, killing him.
The fifth is Eagle Claw (the daughter) vs a monkey style kung fu artist. They trade blows but eventually her eagle claw shreds his thigh, and another strike destroys the tendons of his right arm. She then eagle claws off his shirt, him somersaulting out of her way and having his pants fall to his ankles. He quits in shame.
THe sixth is a "flying rope" fighter vs a Javanese, fighting on poles. Swords are placed in the ground between the poles, meaning that whoever falls gets impaled. The Thai fighter is armed with a kukri blade and is also able to step on the sword points unharmed. The rope fighter uses his weapon to tighten the kukri into the neck of the Javanese man, and forces him abs first into a pile of swords.
The seventh is "dual knives" vs the Yogi. He is able to throw his fists and legs out several feet,an obvious inspiration for Dhalsim in Street Fighter. While they are fighting the One Armed Boxer is spotted by the tournament sponsor, who sends him a letter asking him to participate in the tournament. He not only declines but walks out of the tournament to return to his school. Meanwhile the Yogi uses his rubber limbs to extend his reach beyond the trapping skills of the other fighter, then attacks from a great distance, strangling the surprised knife fighter to death.
The eighth is the Thai boxer, vs. another kung fu fighter. The boxer tells the dummers to be silent while he does an exaggerated snake charmer dance to the sound of a snake charmer's flute. Then proceeds to beat the tar out of the surprised kung fu man after initially taking a few hits from the animal style fighter. Blinding the man with some kicked up sand, he then proceeds a full bore Muay Thai beatdown, resulting in the Kung Fu man's death.
The ninth is a one armed fighter (not the one armed boxer) doing Snake style vs a Praying Mantis fighter. The Mantis fighter is killed by the Snake Fist man, but Fung Sheng dispatches him as he wins with the Guillotine. The tournament is horrified. The Eagle Claw master angrily asks if he is a Qing assassin, and he answers in the affirmative. Fung Sheng says he will avenge the death of his disciples, and the Eagle Claw man insists that he will kill no more. Attacking Fung Sheng, the Eagle Claw man puts up a good fight. Fung Sheng shows no interest in killing the man, initially fighting only enough to walk away, seeking his revenge. When the Eagle Claw man insists on fighting, he is killed by being impaled by the exterior blades of the guillotine. Fung Sheng throws incendiary bombs all over the tournament, torching it, and then leaves.
News of this reaches the One Armed Boxer, who tells his students he is temporarily closing his school. The assassin was sent to kill all martial arts masters, and if the school stays open the students are at risk and the boxer won't have it on his conscience. The boxer explains that a few months ago he killed the two disciples of the guillotine killer (shown in flashback) and as a a result he and anyone near him is at risk.
The students implore him not to run away. The One Armed Boxer insists that he is neither running away nor being foolhardy. He just needs a plan. They are interrupted by the Thai boxer's arrival, dancing and playing the snake charmer's clarinet. The Thai boxer informes the One Armed Boxer that the Guillotine Master is enroute. Enraged, a senior student attacks the Thai boxer, but is no match for the man's tough limbs. The rest of the students watch the fight, which is interrupted by the Guillotine Master flying through the wall. He kills a student with the guillotine, mistaking the Thai boxer's "the one that was talking" instruction to mean the person being spoken to who responded. Fung Sheng throws the guillotine and its exterior blades gash the One Armed Boxer's thigh. He barely escapes, bleeding.
Meanwhile, the tonfa fighter (who rescued the Eagle Claw master's daughter from the tournament) standing watch over her responds to her awaking from her injuries (the guillotine slashed her enroute back from impaling her father) with the news her father is dead. She swears revenge, but he states that she isn't good enough, and offers to bring her to Japan and teach her his martial arts. She refuses, but he tells her she hasn't much choice - then leaves to get food. The One Armed Boxer sneaks in while the tonfa fighter leaves, and approaches the Eagle Claw daughter. He tells her to hide in a house on the other side of a cave, and they part company.
The One Armed Boxer disbands his main school, saying the Guillotine master will arrive shortly. He says once he formulates a plan he'll send for them, then kowtows to a shrine within the school after they leave. The yogi walks in as he is preparing to leave with the portrait within the shrine. The boxer swears off a fight, and ignores the yogi when he tries to goad him into a fight. Angry to be ignored by the boxer, he throws a lantern at the shrine, torching it. Now the boxer is mad enough to fight. The yogi gets some blows in with his extensible arms, and uses them again when the boxer jumps out of reach. Trapping the wrist with his sash against a supporting pole, he kicks out he yogi's elbow, and then kicks him clear into the wall, killing him. But the fight has lasted long enough for the Thai Boxer and the Guillotine master to catch up, but seconds too late as the One Armed Boxer barely escapes.
Reaching the safe house he mentioned to the daughter earlier he takes the young woman away to talk. They come across a bamboo harvester who has to constantly resharpen the axe he is using to cut the bamboo. This gives the One Armed Boxer an idea. If the bamboo can blunt an axe easily, it can also defeat the blades of the guillotine. Now he has a plan.
He heads to the blacksmith and retrieves an order. He then enters a coffin shop. He asks the proprietor if he can hire the entire shop, presenting the man with enough gold coins to seal the bargain. He then converses with the owner from a distance, and we are none the wiser as to what he is planning. The devices purchased from the blacksmith are some kind of booby trap contraption, but it's unclear at first what they are as the boxer and the coffinmaker unfold them.
He then gathers his students and converses with them at the safe house at nightfall, but he is overheard by the tonfa fighter, eavesdropping at a distance. They are to lure the Thai Boxer to the safe house.
They do so by playing the same kind of clarinet he uses, running when he spots them. The Thai fighter throws a coin at a passerby and tells him to find the blind man staying at the inn, and have him come to the cave. He evades a couple of obvious booby traps while chasing them, eventualy coming to the house, where he finds the One Armed Boxer. To his chagrin he also finds he's trapped in a house with a metal floor and a fire lit underneath it. He is barefoot, and the floor is getting hotter and hotter. Distracted by the intense pain in his feet, he is not on top of his game. The One Armed Boxer is shod and therefore can tolerate the heat, beating the man multiple times to the floor, burning his face, feet and arms. When he tries to escape through the windows the students stick spears through them, and he has no choice but to stay in the house with the One Armed Boxer and the ever-heating floor. The One Armed Boxer hits the Thai Boxer so hard he is knocked to near-death, and dies by being cooked on the floor. He then runs out of the house and leaps into a waiting bucket of water, saying that the fight ended just in time because his shoes were starting to give way.
To their surprise, the tonfa fighter shows up before the Guillotine master and wants to fight. The tonfa man offers to leave quietly, but with the girl. If she refuses, he will kil the One Armed Boxer before Fu Sheng can get there. This is clearly unacceptable to both him and the daughter and the two men fight. Meanwhile Fu Sheng races to the scene, assisted by a man from the village. He doesn't see the booby trap and springs it, appearing to trap himself and Fu Sheng. But the guillotine master finds another way out of the cave and the One Armed Boxer hurries in between bamboo poles. Catcalling Fu Sheng, he gets him to hurl the guillotine into the poles, ruining the blades. Enraged, he turns to using his explosive bombs, and throws the guillotine one last time, slashing the One Armed Boxer with the external blade (which are unharmed).
The One Armed Boxer flees to the coffin shop but stops in an aviary.
It is full of birds, whose constant chirping confound the supernatural hearing of Fu Sheng. He can only flail around blindly, managing a couple of blows but otherwise being confounded. The One Armed Boxer takes advantage, knocking the blind man a few times before being knocked through the wall by him into the coffin shop. A worker there makes the mistake of moving and is killed, and the rest flee.
Fu Sheng throws the guillotine into coffin after coffin he believes to be the Boxer that the One Armed Boxer throws rocks against while hanging from the ceiling. As he opens one of them, he triggers the blacksmith's trap, a catapult which hurls a hatchet. Fu Sheng is struck twice by thrown axes, but continues to hurl the guillotine at the boxer. He manages to trap the guillotine by triggering another axe into the guillotine chain, and when Fu Sheng goes to retrieve it the One Armed Boxer splits it in half with a thrown axe. It is now a hand-to-hand fight to the death.
Fu Sheng is the stronger and more skilful man, but the One Armed Boxer has the advantage of sight. The fight appears to be mostly one-sided, until the One Armed Boxer strikes a finger-penetrating blow to Fu Sheng. He then uses hs wall-running ability to evade Fu Sheng and hammers an axe blade into him, causing him to weaken enough to be punched clear through the ceiling and into an open coffin, where he expires.
The One Armed Boxer leaves, bloodied and beaten, but victorious.
It's important not only for being a successful film for Jimmy Wang Yu but also as a clear inspiration for any of a number of "tournament" movies that followed as well as the games Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, with at least two characters a near-direct copy of the Yogi and tonfa fighters (Dhalsim and Raiden).
The DVD copy I purchased has the amusing error of having copyright misspelled as copywrite, as well as parts of the film where the English narration stops and drops back into Chinese complete with subtitles. That being said, it's a classic of the Kung Fu theater and is well worth the $9 it's selling for on Amazon.