Come Drink With Me (1966) dir. King Hu
Starring: Pei-pei Cheng, Hua Yueh, Hung Lieh Chen, Yunzhong Li
I am probably not the best reviewer for this film, which according Hong Kong cinema fans is a landmark film in the genre. I profess to only be a casual fan of martial arts cinema, and though my knowledge doesn’t go beyond the Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and the schlocky Tiger/Crane films of the 70’s of my youth, I can say that “Come Drink With Me” lives to its reputation as the birth of the genre.
“Come Drink With Me” is a simple story, a powerful kung fu warrior, the Jade Faced Tiger, named after his white face makeup, stops a government convoy in rural China. It’s one on twenty but the Jade Faced Tiger beats down and slices to bits the entire group. One person is saved though and taken prisoner. The Jade Tiger’s clan ransoms off the prisoner in exchange for the release of one of their warriors.
Coming to the aid of the government prisoner is the legendary Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei Pei) an unassuming young girl with some nasty skills with a sword and a knife. The bandits prove to be keen adversaries, but she soon finds herself aided by a mysterious drunken kung-fu master who looking for revenge against his old partner. Together they make a formidable duo of destruction.
The film is a marvel for 1966, made a few years before the Bruce Lee films. With “Come Drink With Me”, born is the foundation of all kung fu films which came after it. The story is told with the pacing and chutzpah attitude of a Spaghetti Western. Fights are played out without musical accompaniment – just the sounds of the fists and swords. King Hu takes time to play out each challenge and battle. He’s conscious of the pauses in action as the heroes survey their opponents and plot their strategy. And then with swiftness the action starts with a burst of energy.
King Hu’s magnificent widescreen frames are perfectly composed and make stunning use of the awesome mountain landscapes of mainland China. “Come Drink With Me” also pioneered the expressive use of blood in the action. Stabs and slicing swipes of the swords are met with streams and squirts of gushing blood.
The fights are admittedly rudimentary compared to the abilities and technology available today, but the film is not so much about the choreography of battle but the attitude of the characters to battle. And Cheng Pei Pei as female lead warrior is the ideal lonesome protagonist. She is gorgeous, commanding and confident with the steely-eyed stare of an intimidating master. Ang Lee would take influence from the film and cast Cheng as the Jade Fox in “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”.
I started watching the film (a special edition DVD) without knowing anything of the film, including the year it was made. The fight sequences lack the dance-like fluidity of the more famous genre classics of Jet Li or Jackie Chan, but these films didn’t arrive until the 1980’s – before then it was “Come Drink With Me” which stood above all others and a benchmark of achievement for the genre. Enjoy.
“Come Drink With Me” is available on DVD from the Weinstein Company in the U.S. and Alliance Films in Canada