October is classic international movies month. Today’s guest post comes from Megaen Kelly.
Title: Come Drink With Me (Da zui xia)
Lead Actors: King Chuan (King Hu) and Ye Yang (Yang Erh)
Director: King Hu
Plot Summary: A group of ruffians waylay an official procession that is escorting prisoners, in the hope of releasing their leader. When they find their leader is not among the prisoners, they take the governor’s son hostage, intending to do an exchange.
However, the governor’s other child, Golden Swallow, shows up, demanding that the bandits release her brother. While fighting off the thugs Golden Swallow has help from an unseen quarter — a man, known colloquially as Drunken Cat — helps in various ways throughout the story. We learn that he is actually the head of a religious order and must put himself in peril as he faces his mortal enemy. The two ‘missions’ and their outcome form the basis of Come Drink with Me.
Why I Think This is an International Classic Film
Having the chance to ‘review’ a classic film gives one the opportunity to look back at a movie from 40, 50, 60 years ago and see if it stands the test of time, thereby earning the moniker of ‘classic’. Some films, while popular when released, may fade from collective memory while others hold up well and make for enjoyable viewing still. There are then a few films who, upon their initial release, were so special or different that perhaps they were underappreciated or even misunderstood but have gone on to gain not only popularity but cinematic significance. Such a film is Come Drink with Me.
Before there was Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Jet Li, there was King Hu. A writer and director of vision, what he created in Come Drink with Me changed the face of martial arts films forever. Hong Kong cinema at the time of course had martial arts films in addition to other film fare such as comedies and family dramas. But these martial arts films relied heavily on Chinese opera, meaning they were highly stylised (i.e., not realistic) and fairly static as far as camera movement goes, with the actors moving as they do on stage.
But King Hu, the name he was most well-known by, started using moving camera shots, long takes, and more realistic action including — shock! — blood. However, Come Drink with Me is still fairly tame violence-wise compared to martial arts films of the 1970s onwards, due to the fact that it was a lyrical swordplay film and not outrageous fists of fury. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t shocking scenes of violence — there were.
Another thing that set King Hu apart from his contemporaries was his use of women as heroes, bucking the norm of having male leads and indeed, many martial arts films had very few women’s roles of note. But with Come Drink with Me that all changed with the charismatic, believable performance of the heroine, Cheng Pei-Pei.
Many Western viewers know Cheng Pei-Pei from playing the villain, Jade Fox, in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. When he approached the martial arts legend to be the enemy of the protagonists, Ms Cheng exclaimed (and I’m paraphrasing): What?! You want me to be the bad guy?!
Indeed, in a career that, at the time of Lee’s film, spanned nearly four decades, Ms Cheng had never played the antagonist. But if people who saw that film will recall, she was one of the most enthralling of all the characters. Such is her powerful presence.
Because Ms Cheng was a trained dancer, King Hu felt she could handle the physicality of martial arts. As she went on to realistically perform in many other martial arts films, she proved him right. She brought a grace and dignity to the character of Golden Swallow, which offset the bravado of the bad guys and was a foil to the antics of Drunken Cat, wonderfully played by Yueh Hua.
Many people in the film industry cite Come Drink with Me as being influential on their work, from fight choreography to acting to lighting to camera movement, including all the named professionals in this review.
So if you want to see a film that encompasses ‘classic’ in every sense of the word, I highly recommend you watch Come Drink with Me. Just a note: while Cantonese is the spoken language (or dialect) of southern China including Hong Kong, at the time of Come Drink with Me the Hong Kong film industry was still making films in Mandarin. This would continue until the 1970s.
My Favorite Moment in the Movie
While the fight scenes, whether one against many or one to one, are what make this film the gem it is, I really like it when the performers have to ‘act’. Early in the film Golden Swallow has been dismissive of Drunken Cat, but when she realises he can help her, she changes her tune and tries to wheedle him into helping her. Although Cheng Pei-Pei appeared onscreen first as a man, by this point in the film she had literally let her hair down and was her womanly, albeit still very girlish self, as she was only 19 when the film was shot.
My Favorite Dialogue
As far as dialogue goes, this film doesn’t have anything particularly memorable. If you have seen any martial arts film, no matter the decade, you’ll know it’s a lot of blustering talk that then has to be backed up with fighting. So I’ll skip this section, although it’s worth noting that a scene of comic relief is when Drunken Cat, leading a group of orphans, enters the inn where Golden Swallow is staying and performs a couple of comic songs to literally pay for their dinner.
Key Things You Should Look For When Watching This Movie
The film starts off feeling very disconnected. But once most of the characters have been introduced it is easy to follow as the two groups try to outwit the other.
There are two amazing fight scenes involving the one against many type. The first one is in the inn where the group of baddies fight Golden Swallow, believing the beautiful Cheng Pei-Pei is a man. Although there are a lot of cinematic ‘tricks’ in this sequence, it is exciting all the same.
The other one is outside the temple where the bandits are staying. Again, Golden Swallow faces them all but is thwarted by a cheat. King Hu uses many different angles to film this sequence which was unusual at the time. We have close-ups, long shots, etc.
The main one to one fight comes at the end of the film between the two martial arts masters — Drunken Cat and his nemesis — the evil Abbot. Both possess the superhuman attributes that often crop up in martial arts films that can come across as silly nowadays, but if you overlook that the fight choreography is great!
N.B.: Readers may find the writing of the Chinese names odd. I live in Hong Kong so have used the Cantonese form of writing the names which is family name first, then the remaining one or two names. Typically if a Chinese person has two names it means they were born in Mainland China but that is not 100% always the case. For example, Cheng Pei-Pei was born in Shanghai but grew up in Hong Kong.
To show our gratitude for your guest post, here’s a dash of creative juju for you. Whoosh!
We already have a set of classic 30s movies, 40s movies, 5os movies, 60s Movies, 70s movies, 80s Movies and 90s Movies. This month, we’re working on classic international movies. And thanks to the GITS community, we’ve got at least 22 movies in the works and hopefully more!
Those who I put in bold have already sent me their posts. If you haven’t sent yours to me, please do so as soon as you can!!!
3 Idiots — Abhinav Tiwari
A Prophet — Paul Graunke
Akira — Clay Mitchell
Amarcord — Norma Parena
Amelie — Kevin Curran
Belle Epoque — Melinda Mahaffey
Cinema Paradiso — Traci Nell Peterson
Come Drink With Me — Megaen Kelly
Diabolique — Sherin Nicole
Jules et Jim — Susan Winchell
Kolya — Melinda Mahaffey
Lady Vengeance — David Joyner
Millennium Actress — Chris Neumann
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies — John Henderson
Reprise — Wally Marzano-Lesnevich
Seven Samurai — Will King
The Lives of Others — Paul Graunke
The Tenant — Marija Nielsen
This Man Must Die — Marija Nielsen
Y Tu Mama Tambien — Georgina Hutchinson
NOTE: Thanks, everyone! We hit the daily quota for this series!