The Desperate Chase (1971)

Directed by
Really solid wuxia for its day
Reviewed by Simon on 2024-05-16

Patriotic rebels are en route to deliver an important list to their allies when government agents ambush them. One manages to escape but is mortally wounded. Before expiring he entreats a young beggar to ensure that it is delivered. The enemy soon locates him, but a noble knight takes umbrage at their treatment of the child and intervenes, netting himself a babysitting role.

The Desperate Chase was the second film directed by Kao Pao-Shu, after Lady With A Sword for Shaw Brothers. That film impressed me, and this one impressed me even more. It's a Taiwanese production so it looks quite different, featuring cast, scenery and motifs more familiar from Union Film productions of the era.

It's a good-looking film and feels like a fairly big production, though that could just be the assured hand of the director. Apparently she started her own production company, so no doubt she wanted to make sure the film was up to the standard she envisaged.

The story is probably not very unique but it seemed different enough to capture my interest and have me invested in how the situation played out - again, that could just be the assured story-telling from the director. Characters felt distinct and well developed, with multifaceted motivations.

Despite the rich story-telling the film does not skimp on action - fights are numerous, extensive and often quite elaborate. Choreography and camera work are both superlative. Jimmy Wang Yu fights with a long spear, which suits his abilities well, and the camera is very dynamic and mobile. The fights are staged with clear narrative beats and considerate use of the space where they take place. They are also surprisingly brutal, with some moments of violence that would have made Chang Cheh wince.

If King Hu had directed this film it would probably be celebrated as one of his best works, so it's a shame Kao Pao-Shu never achieved a similar level of recognition (internationally, at least, I don't know if she was widely recognised in Taiwan). As one of very few female directors of martial arts films she is surely worthy of attention, and the quality of the films I have seen from her amply rewards it.

It would be a great title for one of the boutique labels to pick up, if any film survives in a restorable state.