Come Drink With Me is touted as arguably the greatest martial arts film, ever. In its day, this is the movie that broke a lot of grounds, thanks to meticulous direction and vision of King Hu.
The story is simple though, telling of Golden Swallow's (Cheng Pei Pei) quest to rescue her brother, a government official, in a ransom case with a bunch of bandits. While her prowess is formidable, a little help is always appreciated when up against the masses, and little does she know that a beggar of sorts, called the Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua), turns out to be her guardian angel. While the Chinese title is obviously a reference to Yueh Hua's character, this movie is clearly Cheng Pei Pei's breakthrough in the martial arts genre.
The martial arts here is distinctively different. For its time, it was a breakthrough, with its moving cameras, violence, splattering of blood, as well as fights done with adequate pauses and breaks, like a Western stand off at times, before lunging at each other. The movement, while fluid, is slow compared to these days, then again, having action done too fast would mean either stunt people taking over, or you can't see a thing. The style in this movie struck me as samurai styled swordplay, even though the weapon our heroine used was a pair of short swords rather than katanas. The weapons used too were real, lending a sense of realism when the combatants clash.
There are still some opera influences in the movie, especially when it comes to the music, done with chinese orchestra, and accentuates the scenes like a big opera. Playing in sync to the action on screen, it's an early base on which films like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon adopted to great effect. The cinematography is great too, given the many exterior shots in backlots and elaborate sets, featuring classical locales like inns and temples. The introductory scene in the inn will take your breath away, never mind that some cheesy (for today) techniques of stop motion and the reversing of film were used.
Cheng Pei Pei is a star in the movie, and she has managed to infuse her background in ballet and dance to the martial arts moves for the movie, bringing forth a very beautiful poise when executing her moves. Her eyes too were luminous and have a life of their own, and can stare daggers at her enemies. Yueh Hua though felt more carefree, given his role as a wandering beggar. And while there are hints of romance between their characters, don't hold your breaths on counting them developing it any further.
A to-the-point story, and excellent martial arts. This is a definite must watch for all martial arts genre fans.
IVL Code 3 DVD Extras:
A departure from the other IVL releases I've watched so far, this DVD had a valuable commentary by Cheng Pei Pei herself, and daughter Marsha Yuen, presented by film producer Bey Logan, in English. It's quite hilarious listening to Logan try and identify some of the actors, but always getting them wrong and had to be corrected by Pei Pei, until he knew not to embarrass himself further and allowed Pei Pei to introduce them instead. Marsha however, had little to contribute, except to laugh loudly into the microphone.
There are two Come Drink With Me trailers included, one the original which had its written script which you have to read running from right to left, and the quality is pretty degraded. The new remastered one is definitely clearer, and so were the trailers for other movies, some starring Pei Pei herself.
You have the usual extras as well, like the few movie stills, one original poster, a one page one paragraph worth of production notes, as well as a short cast and crew biography and filmography. A pity thought that you can note some typos in the DVD menus and subtitles.
The real gems of the extras, are the interview clips.
The longest interview on the disc is with Cheng Pei Pei (18 mins 30s) done in English, where she compares martial arts movies then and now, shared some production nuggets such as the duration of shooting the fight scenes, on sexuality of those days, her working relationship with King Hu, provided insights into working under Shaw Bros. explained her ease with learning martial arts, and shared on her working experiences with Yueh Hua.
Yueh Hua too has an interview included, though it was quite short, clocking at 4 mins 45s. He shares his thoughts on working with King Hu and Cheng Pei Pei, as well as revealing that he had real wine in that wine bottle prop to assist him in getting into character. However, the interview is conducted in Mandarin, with no subtitles provided.
I'm surprised at the inclusion of an interview with Marsha Yuan (daughter of Cheng Pei Pei) in English, for 6 mins and 40s, as she shares her thoughts on the movie, her realization when growing up that her mom was famous, and the big revelation is that there is going to be a sequel she's gonna star in. Is there?
The last two interviews are with film critic Paul Fonoroff and film producer Bey Logan, as both talk about Cheng Pei Pei and King Hu, clocking at 9 mins 50s, and 4 mins 40s respectively. The former interview is more insightful though, as he shares a little on the history of the rivalry between Shaw and Cathay in their heydays.
The restored version in the DVD is pristine, save for one or two scenes in soft focus which seemed a little blur. Audio transfer is great too. The only pity is that it's not in Anamorphic Widescreen.