One of the early wuxia films from King Hu and the Shaw Brothers, sets a genre standard
Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From cult and genre fare to artful cinema, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.
Arrow Video recently delivered home video enthusiasts a flying kick of fun, with the recent release of Shawscope Volume 1. The first (hopefully) in a series of releases, to celebrate the golden age of the Shaw Brothers, Hong Kong filmmakers who were responsible for hundreds of movies that set new standards for martial arts action, high production values, and a notable aesthetic flourish. Come Drink with Me marks an early work from the famed studio, and one that left a mark on the wuxia genre, influencing many that followed.
The film kicks off with a battle, an assault by the notorious Jade Faced Tiger (Chan Hung-lit) that results in the kidnapping of Zhang (Wong Chung), the son of the local governor. A strategic move, as the menace planes to use this hostage to leverage the release of two of his jailed men. His fighting force hunkers down and waits, while rumors swell of retribution coming, in the form of the famed warrior, Golden Swallow. Unbeknownst to them all, this legendary figure is actually a woman (played by Cheng Pei-pei, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), who has a personal relationship to the prisoner Zhang. With fearsome sidekick (and further comic relief) Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua) in tow, she sets out on her quest to find the bandits, and set Zhang free.
A simple storyline and familiar fare, as far as this genre goes. But the marriage of this tale to stylish action, memorable characters, and a captivating performance from Cheng Pei-pei is what put a stamp on wuxia films. Even now, decades later, Come Drink with Me is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. A mythic and mystical film that took martial arts to new heights, often literally, with wonderful wire work, and beautifully orchestrated action sequences.
Tonally, the film veers from over the top action, to darker more tragically tinged fare. Playfully choreographed battles also work in more visceral and blood soaked moments. The balance, and effective switching between these two contrasts make the film all the more compelling and propulsive. There’s also a nice vein of comedy, largely from a fun interplay between Golden Swallow and Drunken Cat. It’s all deftly constructed by director King Hu, who blends a very traditional style with a forward thinking flourish. Whee the films shines the most is when Cheng Pei-pei graces the screen. Skills, smarts, and savvy, bundled into one deadly package. She elevates a good film into a great one, and firmly entrenched Golden Swallow as a cult figure of the wuxia genre.
Detail is good, colors are natural and healthily represented, and black levels show good range. Some of the film does look a little on the softer side, lighter outdoor sequences. This could be a consequence of cleanup/overprocessing of the transfer, which is supported by the lack of any real grain on the image. This aside, the transfer is free of any damage and artifacts. Extra features are top notch, as you’d expect from Arrow:
- Brand new audio commentary by film critic and historian Tony Rayns: There’s a obvious focus on the careers of King Hu and Cheng Pei-Pei, but he also manages a superb chronicling of the various cast and crew members who helped make the film, including their background and various contributions
- Interview with star Cheng Pei-pei, filmed by Frédéric Ambroisine in 2003: Just shy of an hour, the actress discusses her background in dance, how this fed into her cross into martial arts, prep for the film, and the overall experience on set. A very complete interview/overview of her association to the film
- Interview with star Yueh Hua, filmed by Frédéric Ambroisine in 2007: Running around 30 minutes, it’s an in depth chat about his career, the first opportunities he had in Hong Kong, as well as his casting and experience making Come Drink with Me
- Interview with star Chen Hung-lieh, filmed by Frédéric Ambroisine in 2003: Another sit-down with a key cast member. 45 minutes of diving into his career, with a bigger emphasis on the martial arts aspects, notably training, and the fight planning done on set in the absence of a specific choreographer
- Talk Story with Cheng Pei-pei, a 2016 Q&A at the University of Hawaii moderated by George Chun Han Wang: A short interview segment, but one of the more interesting ones as it focuses on Pei-pei’s experiences on set, specifically as the only woman
- Cinema Hong Kong: Swordfighting, a documentary on the history of the wuxia genre and Shaw Brothers’ contributions to it, produced by Celestial Pictures in 2003 and featuring interviews with Cheng Pei-pei, Gordon Liu, Lau Kar-leung, John Woo, Sammo Hung, Kara Hui, David Chiang and others: A runtime of 50 minutes gives this doc plenty of time to give a really solid overview of the wuxia genre, and the contributions of the Shaw Brothers. Plenty of great interviews help paint a picture of the various names (in front and behind the camera) who put Hong Kong on the cinematic map
- Original theatrical trailer, plus trailer for the sequel Golden Swallow:
- Image gallery:
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella: Also inside is a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anne Billson, a 2010 essay by George Chun Han Wang about the relationship between director King Hu and producer Run Run Shaw, as well as stills from the film
The Bottom Line
Come Drink with Me is a distinct feature from the Shaw Brothers, one that gleefully informed much of the output that followed from their famed studio. Stylish, exciting action, a star making turn from Cheng Pei-Pei, and a thrilling heroic tale to tie it all together. Arrow Video pair a nice quality transfer with a host of quality extras to celebrate this landmark wuxia.
Come Drink with Me is available via Arrow video now