Well how utterly strange. Back when I was still numbering the movies, I had one that was a shoo-in to make the cut. A film I loved and adored, and probably the first one that got me to understand Wuxia. I was convinced I had done of a review of it, and Best Friend was equally sure they they too had read one. But unless Google/Blogger has decided to destroy a post somewhat randomly, it really must have been in that alternate universe. So, only some 18 months late, I would like to have a minute or two with you all, dear readers, and share with you a quite special film.
“Come Drink With Me” is a classic of the genre. It tells the story of Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei Pei), a master swordswoman on a mission to rescue her brother from some nasty bandit types. On the way she encounters and dispatches a host of unsavoury types, is assisted (initially secretly, and then more openly) by a fallen Kung-Fu master called Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua), and eventually comes up against the Bandits and a rather gloriously androgynous character called Jade Faced Tiger (Hung Lieh Chen). Yes there is fighting, and romance. I would expect little else now, but it really was my proper introduction to the genre, and I am not sure I have seen it done much better.
At the core of this is the wonderful and let’s face it beautiful Cheng Pei Pei. Deliberately chosen by Director King Hu as she was trained as a dancer rather than a Martial Artist, she is I suppose one of the blueprints for the Hong Kong warrior woman. Graceful in her movements, almost cat-like, she lights up the screen and utterly demands your attention. She also does the quieter moments well, managing to convince both as someone frustrated by her mid-story poisoning and the unresolved sexual tension between her and Drunken Cat.
Yueh Hua is also great, his character progressing from drunken beggar to a quite compromised hero during the running time. Reading around on the net, it seems he was not the original choice to play the character, Hu looking for someone a little older and wiser, but for my money it works.
I am guessing that this was one of the first films in the genre to really star a strong female lead, opening up the doors for so many actresses I have spoken about here on the blog. I am pretty sure that the scene in the Inn is one that has been imitated and aped many times in the past – but seeing it here in it’s original form, it is still fun and exciting.
The main bad guy is a little pantomime, and yes, over the top. But boy is he able to be both creepy and effective. It must have been in the mind of Ryûhei Kitamura when he made Azumi, at least as a homage. The story too, is maybe a little simplistic for modern tastes, but come on, this is a pretty low budget film made in 1966. Saying that though, the re-mastered DVD I have is utterly glorious, and frankly looks like it was filmed yesterday.
I had always previously considered these movies quite one-dimensional out of nothing more than ignorance. But watching this film made me understand that they are capable of subtle nuances of character, of actually containing great emotion and heart. There is far more here than clever swordplay and people announcing their next Kung-Fu move with some elaborate name.
I’m sure I have watched better films. I’m sure I have engaged with other films more. But as they say – you always remember your first time. And I am glad my first time in the world of Wuxia was this good. Highly Recommended