Ni Chiu (Yau Lung), a street urchin who feigns blindness to scam money, stumbles across a dying man drenched in blood. Scared witless he tries to run away, but the stranger offers a silver tael to deliver a scroll case with a message intended for Prince Ma Tang (Yang Yang). To do this Ni Chiu teams with kindly innkeeper Miss Yan (Chiao Chiao) but the pair are waylaid by a gang of hired killers. Luckily spear-wielding hero in white Lung Tai (Wang Me? No! Wang Yu! Jimmy Wang Yu!!) jumps from a tree to kick all their asses. Feared as the White Dragon, Lung Tai is a notorious duelist with a trail of dead men in his past. Yet his patriotism is stirred on learning Ma Tang is leading a rebellion against evil Prime Minister Sing Pa Tou (Miao Tan). So Lung Tai sets out to help Ni Chiu deliver what turns out to be a secret list of rebel supporters. Unfortunately their meeting with the Prince does not go according to plan. It turns out Lung Tai beat Ma Tang's father in a duel leaving the old man so humiliated he killed himself. So the Prince is less interested in receiving their message than taking immediate revenge.
Released on the American grindhouse circuit as Blood of the Dragon, The Desperate Chase is notable as one of the few martial arts films directed by a woman. Kao Pao-Shu was a character actress on stage and screen with over a hundred roles to her credit including an appearance opposite Jimmy Wang Yu in the Shaw Brothers studio's first major martial arts film: Temple of the Red Lotus (1965). Known for her strong-willed roles, Pao-Shu worked her way up from organizer of Shaw's dubbing department to assistant director before making her directorial debut with Lady of the Sword (1971) starring Lily Ho Li. That same year she left Shaw Brothers and continued directing in her native Taiwan. Pao-Shu's credits include The Cannibals (1972), which is actually a crime thriller, thriller Female Fugitive (1975), drama Wrong Side of the Track (1976) and her best known films: cult kung fu adventure Bandits, Prostitutes and Silver (1977) starring Angela Mao and the Casanova Wong vehicle The Master Strikes (1980). She bowed out with crime thriller Seed of Evil (1980) and passed away in 2000.
With The Desperate Chase Kao Pao-Shu seemingly took her cue from the artful martial arts epics of master filmmaker King Hu, recycling the old rebels-hideout-from-corrupt-government-officials-at-an-inn plot familiar from Come Drink With Me (1966), Dragon Gate Inn (1967) and The Valiant Ones (1975). Co-written by Pao-Shu and staggeringly prolific wu xia scribe Ni Kuang, the script has the over-emphatic patriotism common in many of Jimmy Wang Yu's trashier films but a nonetheless solid thematic arc. Lung Tai's patriotic fervour compels him to overcome his impulse to fight anyone that dares challenge his near-superhuman skill. He in turn inspires Ni Chiu to stop being so selfish. Much as Japan's Lone Wolf and Cub films sought to counterbalance their graphic violence with a tender relationship between a father and child, here Pao-Shu pairs Jimmy Wang Yu with a boy sidekick. The paternal subplot softens the star's scowling lone wolf persona even if he does shove Ni Chiu in a river for, you guessed it, talking unpatriotically. While the constant cuts to the boy and leading lady Chiao Chiao (reunited with Wang Yu after One-Armed Swordsman (1967)) laughing and smiling whenever Lung Tai battles another bad guy grow a trifle tiresome, Ni Chiu does land his moment of heroism. A tense sequence has him race to find a doctor to save Lung Tai's life while outwitting one of the more persistent villains.
While not radically different from male kung fu filmmakers active in the early Seventies, Kao Pao-Shu's directing style leaves The Desperate Chase looking a lot less stage-bound than Shaw Brothers' product. Her earthier mis-en-scene immerses viewers in the dust and grit of the period milieu. In addition whiplash editing, dynamic wide angles and expert staging pull off some blistering fight sequences. Not least the exhausting finale where Jimmy takes on an entire army single-handed. Er, but not literally like he did in a lot of his other films.