Sunday, 16 August 2020

Come Drink With Me

Golden’s Hours

Come Drink With Me
(aka Da zui xia)

Hong Kong 1966 Directed by King Hu
Shaw Brothers/88 Films/Celestial Pictures
Blu Ray Zone B

Come Drink With Me is one of the best of the many great Shaw Brothers, classic wire-work kung fu style movies and it was probably the first of the really big films to highlight the martial arts star Pei-Pei Cheng. She’d already played a few minor characters in films such as the first of the Monkey films, The Monkey Goes West (she’d also turn up in one of the three Monkey sequels, Princess Iron Fan) but most westerners would probably know her best, these days, as the villainous Jade Dragon in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, made 34 years after this movie.

In this one she plays the somewhat enigmatic Golden Swallow, an infamous agent who is out to get her brother out of his position as hostage/bargaining chip after, in a blood thirsty opening battle, some bandits kidnap him so they can exchange him for their captured boss. For some reason, in her first couple of encounters with various gang members and also her unexpected ally, Drunken Hero, played by Hua Yueh, she seems to be somehow mistaken for a man. Which is kinda strange because she certainly never looks like one and then, all of a sudden, about halfway through the film, everybody just starts talking to her as a female. I suspect I’m missing something subtle in Chinese cultural cinema semiotics here so I’ll just leave you to speculate on that one yourself (and possibly inform me via the comments section below?).

Either way, it’s a great film and there are some lovely set pieces in it. It’s been a good decade or so  since I delved into my old Region 3 DVD of the film but I still remembered the brilliant scene where the Golden Swallow is calmly seated in an inn and somewhere between 12 and 20 bandits reveal themselves to her, completely underestimating her fighting and hand coordination skills as they take a good drubbing from her. There’s some brilliant over the top stuff in here such as when two bandits throw a load of those Chinese coins with the square holes in the centre at her. Still seated, she tosses three chopsticks at the ceiling, spearing all the coins to the roof with the three sticks as she opens her fan to collect all the coins as they roll off again. There’s some nice stuff here including some wire work as everyone seems to be able to leap and change direction mid-air, just a little, with their kung fu skills.

My only real disappointment in the film is, after she’s poisoned and rescued by her new ally, once she escapes from the temple of the bandits in pretty bad shape, the film becomes as much about the Drunken Hero’s character as it does her own and, although she is a force to be reckoned with in terms of marital arts skills and the general jumping around shenanigans that many of this genre of Shaw Brothers films were known for, the drunken character... who also has a song and dance number earlier in the picture... is revealed to be at the absolute top level of his kung fu powers. What that means, folks, is that he can part the stream of a waterfall by emitting sustained force from his hands, catch huge rocks with just one finger and, later on, match his brother wisp by wisp as they fire deadly force smoke from the palms of their hands at each other. I must get the name of their kung fu teacher.

So, yeah, although there’s a big battle at the end of the movie with Golden Swallow leading a team of women in defence against the bandits after they retake the boss of the gang, there’s a second climax to the film which is just the drunken master and his warrior monk brother jumping around and firing smoke at each other to act as the ‘next level’ denouement of the movie. Which is a shame because I love the personality of Golden Swallow and her particular fighting style, using two very short swords in each hand, the right one held as normal and the left one often held in a back-stroke position, in much the same way as Zatoichi used to hold his sword cane (incidentally, there was a crossover production between the Hong Kong based Shaw Brothers studio’s One Armed Swordsman and Japanese studio Daiei heroes blind swordsman Zatoichi but, yeah, I’ll get around to re-watching that for this blog in a while, I guess).

Like a lot of the Shaw Brothers movies from this period, the film is very colourful and has some nicely framed sequences... although the camera does seem a little shaky in places (not sure if that’s because of how good the new Blu Ray transfer is when combined with a certain kind of footage or if it’s something else). The music is pretty good and standard fayre for something like this although, in those little pauses they always seem to have every few fighting moves in films like this, the music steps up and builds up tension purely with percussion, in much the same way that an Italian western under the influence of Ennio Morricone would have similarly underscored the showdowns.

Although there’s also a lot of humour in the film, this might be too much for some people to stomach in terms of the suspension of disbelief when people start leaping just a little too high or firing energy around from the palms of their hands but, if you can just go with it, I think you’ll find Come Drink With Me is a fun little gem and there’s a reason why it often turns up in those ‘1001 movies you should see before you die’ lists. Certainly it’s one of my favourite Shaw Brothers movies and it even gave rise to a sequel a few years down the line called Golden Swallow... although I remember being somewhat disappointed in the second one which, although again starring Pei-Pei Cheng in the title role, seemed less like the character from the original film and, if memory serves, she had less to do in it too. Still, the first one is absolutely one of the great martial arts movies and the more adventurous of you might want to give this one a go, especially in the newish, nicely restored Blu Ray version from 88 Films, which also includes a commentary and the trailer (and a booklet and slip case if, like me, you purchase the first edition pressing). It’s chop quality socky!

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