Saturday, 7 October 2017

Come Drink With Me

Title: Come Drink With Me
Director: King Hu
Released: 1966
Starring: Cheng Pei-pei, Yueh Hua, Chan Hung-lit, Lee Wan-chung, Yeung Chi-hing, Ku Feng, Jao Li-jen, Wong Chung, Cheung Hei, Angela Pan

Plot: When a group of thugs kidnaps a young official in a bid to free their imprisoned leader Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei) is sent to rescue him, while finding unlikely help in the beggar and secret kung fu master Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua)

Review: For a film which is seen as such an important milestone for martial arts cinema its somewhat frustrating that like the majority of films in the Shaw Brothers back catalogue that like the Godzilla series the lousy distribution has meant that bar a handful of titles few have made it over to region 2. True Amazon have now started to add some of these films but it still doesn’t answer the question as to why this film has been so frequently over looked while we can get 7+ releases of every Bruce Lee movie.

Noteworthy for being the first Martial arts film to move away from the Chinese opera inspired theatrics which had for the longest time been a staple of the Martial Arts genre, here director King Hu ushered in a brief era of serious minded martial arts movies which ultimately would meet its demise with the rise in popularity of the wire-fu movies. However its ideals would not be squashed entirely with the early 2000’s it was clear that they were instead merely dormant as the influence of this film can certainly be seen in the likes of Zhang Yimou “Hero” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” which saw Ang Lee bringing the star of this film Cheng Pei-pei out of retirement to play the villainous Jade Fox.

Despite only being 19 when she headlined this film Cheng Pei-pei confidently plays the role of Golden Swallow, a role she would play again in the sequel, but also setting her on the path of being one of the more identifiable Swordswomen in martial arts cinema which has seen her working almost continuously since. Here though she is captivating in the role from the first scene we see her in as she enters the local Inn looking for information on the bandits holding the official who is also her brother.

While more restrained in its action than other titles in the Shaw Bros. Back catalogue when we do get an action scene it is still entracing to watch her movements, especially with her fighting style being less based around power but instead focusing on graceful movements which plays to Cheng Pei-pei’s advantage with her background as a dancer much like Michelle Yeoh with her ability to memorise choreography here proving much key than the martial arts training she undertook prior to making the film. That being said Pei-pei already establishes herself as a badass before she even draws her sword warning a group of would-be attackers with the use of chopsticks and coins which she embeds in the walls of the inn with ease. My favourite of these subtle little movements though is the slight shift of her gaze to the side which would go on to be one of her trademarks.

Outside of Pei-pei’s scenes there is plenty of enjoyable sword play with the film opening to the bandits massacring the government official's guard. A scene which is surprisingly bloody even including a hand being almost comedically hacked off in the fray. At the same time we do get some surprisingly shocking moments of violence mixed in including the murder of a child monk by the villain Smiling Tiger (Lee Wan-chung) which comes seemingly out of nowhere and seeing how its so jarring compared to the rest of the film, I can’t help but wonder if this was as shocking back when the film was originally released.

One of the more jarring aspects of the film though is how Golden Swallow is pushed into the background when she gets hit with a poison dart around the halfway point with the focus instead shifting to Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua) the begger and martial arts master in hiding. Infact even our main villian at this point, the pancake makeup loving and generally theatrical Smiling Tiger is changed out for the evil abbot Liao Kung (Yeung Chi-hiung) who he attended the same Kung-fu school as Drunken Cat. There conflict providing one of the more fantastic elements of the film as the pair exchange magical blows as they battle for control over the bamboo staff of their master.

Seemingly this shift was down to King Hu doubting the abilities of Yueh Hua as a leading man, even though he does end up stealing most of the scenes he appears in, while Jackie Chan has noted the character was an inspiration for his own comedic and physical style of moment as Yueh Hua paints a very different idea of the martial arts hero, especially when compared to Golden Swallow.#

A enjoyable romp with some standout action sequences which alone are worth giving it a look, let alone the star making turn by Cheng Pei-pei

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