Come Drink With Me is a prime example of how Shaw Bros. Studio revolutionized Wuxia films with new concepts for its time. Released in 1966, this film is director King Hu’s final film with the studio, and his first Wuxia film.
A governor’s son is taken hostage by bandits that want to exchange him for their leader, who is being held captive by the governor. Once word gets out, a swordswoman named Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei Pei) appears to rescue the governor’s son. A beggar named Drunken Cat (Yueh Hua) assists on her journey and appears to harbor a secret in relation to the bandits.
Many Wuxia films of its time were quite straightforward with their plot and themes; this one adds extra layers for audiences to think over. For example, the xia code is brought into question when Drunken Cat has to choose between upholding justice or adhering to his martial brotherhood. Also, Golden Swallow challenges societal norms within a male dominated society, by trying to do everything on her own for her mission. In the finale (minimum spoilers), Golden Swallow is joined by a group of women in order to complete her mission.
Though the fights are slow by today’s standards, it is faster paced than other films at the time. Ironically, the choreography is preferred over today’s films (by this reviewer at least). The camerawork is steady, which ensures that all of the action is displayed on screen at once. Cheng Pei Pei has a dance background, and essentially “dances” while fighting. Her moves and face are captured without fail; previous Wuxia films would have the camera focused on the performers strictly from behind! Even films nowadays use a lot of CGI and shaky cams to conceal the actors’ lack of physical prowess. Even more impressive is how she demonstrates her skills with different weapons. This film also has some of the earliest instances of blood in Wuxia Cinema; prior to this, there was hardly any blood!
This movie’s influence can be seen in later Wuxia films. Golden Swallow, the main character, initially disguises herself as a man. The concept of a woman crossdressing as a man is a Wuxia trope that is too familiar now (e.g., Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Yu Jiao Long), but was quite unique for its time. Prior Wuxia films were shot exclusively in a sound stage; this one is filmed on location extensively and great effort is made to make sound stage shots blend in seamlessly. While many Shaw Bros. Wuxia films would continue to be shot on a sound stage, the other studios would shoot on location and become a norm for future films. Last but not least, the 2008 Hollywood The Forbidden Kingdom film, best known as the first film featuring Jet Li and Jackie Chan, pays tribute to this movie with its own Golden Swallow character!
To understand how Wuxia films got to where it is now, look no further than this. It is an excellent start to contemporary Wuxia films, female led Wuxia films, and King Hu’s filmography. For North American audiences, Arrow Video released a beautifully remastered Blu-Ray of this film packed with many extras. A real must-own for lovers of this film. Highly recommended!
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