Filmed in 1974, Master of the Flying Guillotine never received a proper theatrical release in the United States. Dubbed into English, and cut by a dozen minutes, the film was dumped into a few Midwest drive-in theatres before airing on television. Although available for years on videotape, a big-screen version of Master of the Flying Guillotine has long been sought after by martial-arts fans. This restoration returns the film to its wide-screen format and original Mandarin soundtrack, and also features new English subtitles.

Set in the 18th century, the film involves a deadly feud between leaders of the Manchu dynasty and the remnants of the recently defeated Ming dynasty. Fung Sheng Wu Chi (Kam Kang), a blind Buddhist monk, has been hired to root out and assassinate the Ming rebels. His weapon of choice is a helmet with retractable blades. Using the attached chain, Wu Chi can throw the helmet onto enemies and behead them.

When his disciples are murdered by Yu Tieh Lu (Jimmy Wang Yu), a martial-arts hero known as the One-Armed Boxer, Wu Chi sets out to avenge their deaths, killing every one-armed man he finds along the way. The unsuspecting Yu Tieh runs a martial-arts school. In one lesson, he shows his students how by regulating their breathing, they can climb walls and walk upside-down across ceilings.

Wuk Chang Sheng (Lung Kun Yee), president of the Eagle Claw School, holds a martial-arts tournament that attracts competitors from all over Asia, including 'Win Without a Knife' Yakuma (Wang Lung Wei) from Japan and Nai Men (Chi Fu Chiang) from Thailand. Contestants fight with swords, poles, spears, tornado knives, braided hair, yoga, flying ropes, and other weapons.

The blind Wu Chi disrupts the tournament, calling for Yu Tieh. Yakuma and Nai Men join him, referring to the missing One-Armed Boxer as a 'one-winged chicken.' Yu Tieh must concoct a devilish plan to defeat his enemies.

Despite its cult reputation, this is a silly film with very little to recommend it, even to kung fu zealots. The action choreography is notable for its heavy reliance on wire work, at the time still somewhat of an innovation. Unfortunately, the effects look rough and unprofessional. The martial artists possess super powers that actually aren't very helpful, like extending elastic arms that stretch so far that opponents can duck under them. By today's standards, the pacing of the fights seems unbearably slow. Too often, it's possible to see the performers protecting themselves by pulling their punches.

Despite the restorers' efforts, the print quality is poor, with some shots faded into a faint purple. The original production values--out-of-focus cinematography, jagged continuity, badly timed dubbing, etc.--may have some camp appeal, but still make watching the movie a chore.

--Daniel Eagan