Although Thousand Miles Escort; aka, Thousand Mile Escort (Ren ba shao, 1976) is said by some not to be one of Chia Ling's best, she is nevertheless spectacular in her few well choreographed fight scenes.
Her sword & spear work is in some scenes is pure Chinese Opera weapons juggling, quite different from typical wuxia adaptations of such skills, & very pretty to watch. She also gets to wear some great costumes & she's fundamentally just gorgeous.
But it was hard to assess her acting because I had the misfortune of finding only a dubbed version. Sometimes a bad translation in subtitles can be revised in the viewer's own mind to be more serious or effective, but when the bad lines come straight out of peoples' mouths, it's hard not to laugh.
The dubbing was done in Taiwan & some of the dubbers were obviously Americans but more of them speak English so badly that it's hard to tell what they're saying. One of the exceptions is Chia Ling's character who speaks like a caucasian yuppy.
The fact that most of the inept dubbing was done by Chinese people was actually less annoying than when some cheap outfit in America buys the rights to a film then has their buddies Jack & Bob hastilly dub it all in cartoon voices.
There's is however an old-timy score reminiscent of something King Hu might've used, & the cinematography, even cropped for full screen presentation, is elegant. The film cries out to be remastered, letterboxed, with removeable subtitles, restoring the Mandarin of the actors. The story's a pretty good one & the film is worthy of a respectfully proper re-release.
We have a good hero Zen Ja Ti (Pai Ying, from A Touch of Zen) who helps the needy, & is not too judgemental about banditry since life is hard for everyone in a corrupt age. He temporarily takes a position with the evil Prime Minister only to find out what's rotten in denmark.
When the Prime Minister sets his devoted & thereby wrong-doing General Shao upon the family of an innocent minor official, our hero saves the family's little boy's life. Zen Ja Ti soon has a collapsable babycart, & sets out with the orphan for the capitol with the Prime Minister's letter to the Tartars as proof of treason.
The "bad" general is played by Lo Lieh who rather specializes in villains though I find him so interesting I always want him to play a hero. In this role he may be bad, but he's not evil. He serves an evil lord, true, but by a code that the prime minister has no choice but to tolerate unless he wants to cut loose his best man.
His wife (Michelle Lai; aka, Mi Hsueh) loves her husband devotedly, & volunteers to go underground among the rebels to serve him as a spy.
She, too, although representing the "bad" swordswoman, is not evil. Her role isn't written quite large enough, however, as she doesn't last long in the story (though for some odd reason her key scene is played twice, a second time in a flashback).
The Prime MInister of course doesn't want the emperor to see that letter so our hero's long walk behind the babycart is a road of assassins, with mass-slaughter at every bend.
Fans of Japan's Lone Wolf with Cub aka Babycart series will recognize the borrowed imagery & attitude of Thousand Miles Escort. Even Zen Ja Ti's weapon of choice is adapted from the Lone Wolf series: a staff with automatic protruding spike, & out the other end the capacity to shoot knives. This is similar to the subsidiary weapons Ito Ogami can remove from Daigoro's babycart.
The influence from Japan's jidai geki really helps the film a lot, as the samurai originals are deadly serious films, & this Chinese variant by right of imitation is more serious than wuxia tends to be.
Along the route, the equally heroic swordswoman Miss Yuen, & the rebel general she serves, protect the lone swordsman with child, not that he is having a particularly hard time taking care of himself.
In the climax it's the Prime Minister's semi-evil general vs the hero & heroine in an extended battle. Although they succeed at their political intent, there is nevertheless a more tragic conclusion than one would expect.
Though so many wuxia fans have panned this one, I'd assess it as a good film overall, not totally ruined by cropped frame & dubbing. A film that can survive that I would love to see again in a proper format.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl