Come Drink with Me (1966)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2009-02-01
Summary: A beautiful classic
"Come Drink With Me" is one of the high points of Hong Kong cinema. King Hu was a genius and Sir Run Run Shaw put the creative and adminstrative might of Shaw Brothers behind him. It features Cheng Pei Pei, Yuen Hua, Chen Hung-Leih and Shum Lo very early in their acting careers, Sammo Hung's first credit as action director and a battalion of talented Shaw Brothers professionals in front of the camera, many of whom become (or already were) stars in their own right. It was beautifully framed and shot--Shawscope never looked better and touched on such universal and timeless themes as family loyalty, duty to one's country, the necessity of the rule of law and personal honor. To say that "Come Drink With Me" has held up against movies that came decades later is, I think, to sell it a bit short--it is a close to a masterwork by a masterful artist.

One example: in an early scene, Golden Swallow enters a restaurant and orders five ounces of liquor made from tiger paw. When the waiter tells her they don't have it she orders another type of alchohol with two glasses. She is being watched by one of the leaders of the bandits who hold her brother hostage who is already in the restaurant. We know that Golden Swallow knows she is in the presence of her enemies by the varying planes of focus and depth of field that King Hu uses, first showing her sharply against the slightly out of focus bandits in the background, then focussing on the bandit and his henchmen with her still in the foreground but no longer the subject of the shot. Her sidelong look as the camera moves toward the bandits is perfect and perfectly caught on film. The bad guys fear Golden Swallow, having tasted defeat at her hands already--we know this because they have talked about how they would much rather face the governor's soldiers than have to deal with her again. Now they scuttle around, disguised as merchants, woodcutters and porters, while spying on Golden Swallow and hoping to catch her unawares. King Hu has made it clear to the audience that this won't happen and that the bandit's fear is well placed.

Cheng Pei Pei was not an accomplished screen fighter then and the fight choreography suffered because of it--for example she would strike a defensive pose positioning her twin daggers to parry a sword blow that hadn't begun, oddly reversing the "thrust/parry"rhythm to a clumsy looking "parry/thrust". She was great at looking imperious, though, as if thinking "how dare you rabble attack me" which along with the impeccable framing and cutting, helped the audience overlook her action heroine shortcomings, as did her training as a dancer so that her moves, however non-deadly they may have looked, were always graceful and impeccably timed.

Golden Swallow's enemies are a formidably cruel lot, particularly Jade Faced Tiger, portrayed with over the top glee by Chen Hung-Lieh--his villainy is delicate, almost feminine. His cohorts are a murderous but cowardly gang, ready to kill an already injured monk at his command but fearful when confronting someone who may fight back.

Fan Dapei, a prescient drunken knight, helps Golden Swallow by waking her up, annoying her by demanding that she join him in a drink. When she throws him out she discovers that her short swords are missing. Angry, she goes after him, always a step behind until she finds the swords so she is alert, armed and ready for action and, just as importantly, not in her bed when Jade Faced Tiger's men arrive to kidnap her. If she hadn't been chasing Fan Dapei she would have been asleep when they showed up.

The long fight, first between Golden Swallow and the mass of the bandits, then with Jade Faced Tiger, is choreographed to hide Cheng Pei-Pei's martial arts shortcomings. The bad guys past her and fall dead with a bloody wound that the audience didn't see delivered. Occasionally two of them attack at the same time and she is able to dispatch both, one in front of her with a slash, the one behind with a backhanded jab.

During this fight she shakes her hair loose, transforming herself to arrestingly beautiful from tough but attractive a transformation made all the more striking because it happens in context while fighting.

“Come Drink With Me” is a gorgeous film, beautifully composed and shot, making great use of the wide screen. The scenes filmed on location, particularly the long fight at the temple are breathtaking with the deep focus and long depth of field showing King Hu’s rigorous attention to detail.

This is not a museum piece, not only an artifact from the past that we can see echoed in movies in the decades after it. It is a very entertaining film and will remain such as long as movies are watched.
Reviewer Score: 9