Come Drink with Me

It's a rare film when I feel that I am watching something of great significance taking place on the screen. Come Drink with Me directed by King Hu in 1965 certainly made me feel this way. I was enthralled, immersed and moved by it. It is without a doubt one of the watershed films in Hong Kong cinema.

Working for the Shaw Brothers, King Hu magically combines many of the cinematic elements that were to influence HK films for decades to come. It is a wonderful sword fighting film - clearly influenced by the blood spurting Japanese Samurai films of the time - and is full of spectacle, fantasy, drama, evil villains and larger than life heroes. The main hero is Golden Swallow - one of the first great action heroines in HK films. Hu often filled his movies with strong female characters - Angela Mao, Polly Shang Kwan and Hsu Feng - were in some of his later films.

Cheng Pei Pei stars as Golden Swallow and because of this film and the sequel Golden Swallow (aka Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick - directed by Chang Cheh) she has become something of a legend. Kelly Hu's character in Martial Law pays tribute to her by taking the name Pei Pei. Cheng Pei Pei was not a martial artist, but in fact a dancer and she moves beautifully through her choreographed sword fights - dispatching the bad guys with lithe quick thrusts or in a flurry of motion.
The film begins with an attack upon an imperial official and his escorts by a band of thieves. They kill the escorts and take the official as a hostage and later demand that their leader be freed from jail or the official will be executed. Instead, the magistrate sends his daughter Golden Swallow to either negotiate his release or slay the bandits. The first scene with Pei Pei is a classic. Hu has an incredible ability to slowly build a scene - layer it with
interesting characters, heightening tensions, sideway glances - all counter-pointed by a terrific soundtrack.
Pei Pei enters an inn (one of Hu's favorite venues) and sits down at a table to eat. Gradually we realize that many of the other customers are members of the bandit group and they slowly surround her, and then discreetly test her skills and then silently draw their swords. All this time Pei Pei continues as if nothing is awry, but she misses nothing. Finally the tension breaks and the bandits attack. Pei Pei is more than ready for them.
The film continues in wonderful fashion as Pei Pei finds an ally in a drunken beggar who turns out to be much more than he appears. Between the two of them, they take on the bandits leading to a final climatic fight full of swirling swordswomen, flying arrows, deadly daggers, flashing swords and dying fighters lying on the field.
This film and others by King Hu had a huge influence on the HK films that followed and in particular on Tsui Hark and the fabulous fantasy films he was to make in the 80's and 90's. The copy of the video was not too bad - the colors had faded a bit - and it was unfortunately P&S - so much of the breadth of the film is lost - but it is a film that all HK film fans should see. Certainly the fighting and the flying scenes are not as slick or as seamless as in today's films - but this is one of the films that started it all.

My Rating: 9.0


Trailer 2