THE DESPERATE CHASE 1971 aka BLOOD OF THE DRAGON
Jimmy Wang Yu (The White Dragon, Lung Tai), Chiao Chiao (Miss Lian), Yu Lung (Ni Chiu), Yang Yang (Ma Tang), Miao Tien (Prime Minister Sing Pa Tou), Lung Fei (Kang Fu), Yi Yuan (General Tai, the Red Wolf), Ho Yu Ming (Gold Leopard), Tien Yeh (Ma Chin)
Directed by Kao Pao Shu
The Short Version: The Mongols are desperately chasing Wang Yu, a cocky, yet noble spear master named White Dragon who stumbles into delivering a coveted list (a staple of all your finer kung fu movies) to a vengeful prince who wants his head on a stake. Kao Pao Shu directs her second sword-clanger, and her first after leaving Shaw Brothers Studio. She does a fantastic Chang Cheh impersonation while humanizing Wang Yu's solitary spearman. One of the handful of times a serious martial arts movie doesn't embarrass itself with an English dub track, this one comes equipped with a sterling rock score by Flood, a then band-on-the-brink-of-success. Packed with action, the final battle lasts 20 minutes! Even more shocking, you will see Wang Yu crack a smile for a reason other than ferociously goring his opponents with his spear.
Near the close of the Yuan Dynasty, a lone wolf martial artist with a silver spear named White Dragon befriends a small boy named Ni Chiu who has a scroll in his possession that must be delivered to the young prince Ma Tang. The Prime Minister Sing Pa Tou, in league with the Mongols, want this scroll as it contains a list of rebels and the location of their headquarters. Upon reaching the palace, the prince recognizes Lung Tai, thinking he's his father's killer. After fighting to a draw, Lung Tai and the boy turn to leave but the prince attacks Lung from behind, stabbing him in the back. Lung and Ni Chiu escape; and the prince, so overcome with misplaced vengeance, doesn't realize they were bringing him the list. The chase is on till the White Dragon is trapped at an inn and must fight off hordes of the Mongols led by the Red Wolf, General Tai.
Wang Yu takes his near invincible Silver Roc from Chang Cheh's GOLDEN SWALLOW (1968) and gives him a silver spear and a goatee for this blood-spattered swordplay epic. But whereas he sought out the villains in wave after wave of slaughter in the Chang Cheh classic, the bad guys come to him in this, The Desperate Chase of the title. His love of Japanese cinema continues; this time with shades of Zatoichi and the Lone and Cub series as Wang's solitary spear master befriends a small boy to help deliver a crucial list to a prince. The kicker is the prince wants him dead! Actually, just about everybody wants Wang's White Dragon dead. Spending the majority of the movie both on the run and bleeding from a massive gash in his back, either the film's original title or its generic-sounding US handle work just fine in describing what the movie is about.
Chang Cheh's trademark 'One Man Army' motif is taken to new extremes in THE DESPERATE CHASE. In Chang's movies, the hero often receives a mortal wound just before the climax--continuing to fight scores of villains before he himself succumbs to his injuries. Kao, on the other hand, has Wang's heroic spearman seriously wounded in the first 30 minutes! And the last 30 minutes is almost the length of the final battle wherein White Dragon Lung Tai takes on an army of Mongols all by himself. Cheung I Kuei's choreography is surprisingly varied for 1971. Virtually all the fights have something different about them. The finale is of special note--featuring Wang Yu energetically stabbing and impaling everyone in sight.
His duel with the main villain, Red Wolf General Tai, is likewise noteworthy. The General uses a sword whose blade can detach itself into a metal whip and reconnect as a sword again--much like the one seen in the French action-horror-drama-martial arts movie, BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (2002). Playing the General is Yi Yuan, a prolific actor of near 200 credits. One of his more famous roles was the lead antagonist in the Joseph Kuo favorite, THE 18 BRONZEMEN (1976).
Moreover, the implacable White Dragon is further defined by an authoritative pose he strikes before and during his many battles. Spinning his spear in a windmill motion, he stabs it into the ground in an intimidating style. This is easily one of the superstar's best roles and imbued with a lot of charisma that's normally missing in his emotionally bereft performances of other pictures.
Watch for an early supporting role by future supreme bad guy, Lung Fei (see above). Playing one of the chief subordinates to General Tai, his weapon of choice is a chain with a steel ball at the end of it. Naturally, this being a Chinese action movie, the ball has retractable blades on it. By the mid 1970s, Lung Fei would become one of the busiest actors in Asian action movies, playing bad guys in dozens of motion pictures--many of which were for Wang Yu.
Elsewhere in the cast, Wang Yu is reunited with Chiao Chiao, the actress who played his wife/love interest in his Shaw Brothers classics, THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (1967), THE ASSASSIN (1967) and RETURN OF THE ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN (1969). Surprisingly, she has less to do here than she did in Macho Movie King, Chang Cheh's movies. In those pictures, she was always the moral center to Wang Yu's righteous warrior characters. In THE DESPERATE CHASE, her role is simply an action scene supplement. She left Shaw's in 1971 but got to headline two swordplay pictures tailored for her with Lo Wei's THE BLACK BUTTERFLY (1968) and Korean director Cheng Chang Ho's HEADS FOR SALE (1970).
Kao Pao Shu has written an exciting story and directs with flair integrating just the right amount of action with exposition. The interplay between Lung Tai and Ni Chiu--growing into a father and son type relationship--is given a lot of screentime; something this genre wasn't known for--particularly those of the independent studios. Previously an actress, this was Kao's first film for her own company, Park Films. Her only previous effort at that time was her directing debut for Shaw Brothers with the impressive LADY WITH A SWORD (1971) starring superstarlet Lily Ho. Kao often took bit parts in her movies but directed herself as THE FEMALE FUGITIVE (1975), a Thailand lensed modern day actioner co-starring Chen Hui Min. She would later write, produce and direct full caliber Kung Fu films like 1980s THE MASTER STRIKES starring Casanova Wong, Ching Siu Tung and Yen Shi Kwan.
In America, everybody was Kung Fu Fighting in 1973--a huge year for stateside releases of Kung Fu and martial arts movies. Shaw Brothers' KING BOXER exploded onto movie screens in March of that year. Re-christened as FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH, it was unlike anything anybody had seen before. The surprise success of these movies meant producers and distributors would be scrambling to unleash more dubbed violence and post-synced slaughter-fests--many of which were of varying quality. In addition to Bruce Lee's movies, imported Swordplay and Fist and Kick flicks like FEARLESS FIGHTERS, FISTS OF THE DOUBLE K, SEVEN BLOWS OF THE DRAGON and SACRED KNIVES OF VENGEANCE were popular attractions on theater screens across the country.
THE DESPERATE CHASE (1971) received a US release in late 1973 under the title of BLOOD OF THE DRAGON, "starring six feet of silver death!". Promotional materials hyped it as Wang Yu's stateside screen debut although his 1970 feature, THE CHINESE BOXER, was a number one hit in America in June of 1973 when it premiered as THE HAMMER OF GOD.
BLOOD OF THE DRAGON was the first legit theatrical release of Georgia based porn producer Michael Thevis, a notorious kingpin and murderer. His move into legit film distribution was, along with the founding of the General Recording Corporation (GRC) record label, merely a front for his illegal activities. Thevis also hired an up-and-coming Georgia band called Flood to do a soundtrack for the movie--an epic barbarian rock and synth score not unlike the one done for the later New World release of SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980). Mark Lindsay's electronic samurai sounds might be more famous, but it isn't as grand as Flood's rock-fused compositions. Unfortunately, greatness alluded the band when the rug was pulled out from under them in 1974 after Thevis was imprisoned in December of that year. Passing on an offer from music entrepreneur Bill Lowery to sign with Thevis' GRC, the band's first album never came to fruition. Still, their potential lives on in the US version of THE DESPERATE CHASE.
Meanwhile, Thevis remained in prison till he escaped on the night of April 28th, 1978 from the New Albany County Jail in Indiana. Thevis was among America's 10 Most Wanted for seven months till this real-life Desperate Chase was over on November 9th, 1978. After a key witness in Thevis' indictment was gunned down in an ambush on October 25th, the former porn promoter was captured in Connecticut when he tried to cash a $31,000 check. A film about him would surely be a hit.
Additionally, novelist William Diehl was a producer on BLOOD OF THE DRAGON. Among his mainstream credits, Thevis executive produced the surreal, Drive-in trash art of POOR PRETTY EDDIE in 1973, but it didn't see a release till 1975.
Fans of English dubbing in Hong Kong cinema will approve of all the Tough Guy dialog; examples being when Lung is asked if his time is approaching; he replies with, "I don't have time to die right now"; or Lung telling another an enemy to... "Roast in Hell!" There are two English dubs provided on the German DVD--one for the film's US release in 1973 and the original English dub from Hong Kong. Both offer slightly differing translations although the former is the superior track.
Several minutes of an inferior source are integrated to make this the most complete version possible. Sadly, the bulk of these degraded shots (see above) is all violent footage including one incredible bit where Lung Tai turns one of the villains into Swiss cheese with the most energetic spear thrusts you've ever seen.
One of Wang Yu's strongest movies he didn't direct himself, Kao Pao Shu's tightly woven, slick swordplay feature is a lot of fun and one of the actor's best roles. It would greatly complement a co-feature with the aforementioned SHOGUN ASSASSIN to make a great exploitation double bill for devoted Drive-in movie fans. Widely available on various labels of varying quality, the German DVD is, thus far, the best presentation of this underrated gem.
This review is representative of the R2 German DVD. Specs and Extras: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen; trailers; US version opening and ending credits; Hong Kong opening credits; still gallery; running time: 01:31:23