Saturday, April 16, 2011

Come Drink with Me…Then You Die

The protagonist of Come Drink With Me (1966, AKA Da Zui Xia) is a petite Chinese woman named Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei…yes, the same lady from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Based on this description, you might assume this is one of those Chinese teahouse stories where the main character is either a peasant or a princess who finds herself caught in a love triangle. You would be wrong, but at least you were right about their being a teahouse.  No, Golden Swallow is a sword-wielding badass who likes to lure her adversaries into a false sense of security by sipping tea before she uses her two daggers to slice them up. 

Director King Hu truly revolutionized the martial arts film genre with this 1966 classic.  The overall production standards and fight sequence designs were a great leap forward for Hong Kong cinema.  Concentrating on the areas of color and movement, King Hu creates a martial arts film full of grace and style. His lead actress’s ballet training no doubt helped with the overall gracefulness of her character’s deft movements. Watching her precise and fluid movements in the fight sequences is something to behold.  It is strange to say, but watching her engage in these acts of violence one is reminded of a beautifully choreographed Chinese opera. And she does all this wearing long gowns and large hats, which I suppose makes her seem even more skilled, as no doubt it was not easy to maneuver in such costumes. King Hu deliberately chose Cheng Pei-pei for Golden Swallow because of her ballet background. An admirer of Peking Opera, King Hu constructed his fight sequences based on the principles of dance.

In addition, King Hu benefits from his other star, Yueh Hua, who plays Drunken Cat, a drunken beggar who assists Golden Swallow in her quest to free her brother, a local government official, from a group of bandits. We first meet Drunken Cat when Golden Swallow meets with the bandits at a teahouse to negotiate the release of her brother. Things escalate when she refuses to trade the bandits’ leader for her brother—enter Drunken Cat as her secret weapon. More than ten years before Jackie Chan played a drunken master, it was Hua Yueh who brought this martial arts technique to the big screen. It is rumored that he consumed two bottles of wine before filming his fight sequences. It is quite comical to listen to him sing songs from famous Peking Opera’s to help Golden Swallow. 

Though they have completely different personalities, Drunken Cat and Golden Swallow work well together.  He serves as a wise advisor and capable accomplice. She’s a hothead who often acts before she thinks. It is through one of Drunken Cat’s opera songs that Golden Swallow finds the bandits’ hideout—a spectacularly designed Buddhist temple. The realistic-looking temple was entirely constructed on the Shaw Brothers’ lot. When Golden Swallow is injured there by a poisoned dart, it is Drunken Cat who nurses her back to health and helps her plan her assault on the temple.  Of course, Drunken Cat has his own debt to settle with his brother (Chan Hung Lit), who is both a criminal and an abbot at the temple.  As such, there is eventually a  showdown between the two brothers…and Golden Swallow has her own showdown with the bandits—but in an interesting twist she has a mini-army of female warriors who help her defeat them. 

Come Drink With Me might not be the best martial arts film of all time, but it certainly is one of the most important. King Hu truly changed the Wuxi genre by creating fight sequences that could be viewed as both artistic and powerful. A sequel, Golden Swallow, followed two years later, but it was not as good as the original and there is no Drunken Cat.  However, King Hu would score another hit in 1971, with his best film A Touch of Zen, which I will be reviewing next week.


  1. Rick,
    I really am enjoying your passion for these Kung Fu films. The names they gave these characters are quite funny then theres the fact that we get a female kicking butt this time. I think I would enjoy this one.
    Another fun read!

  2. Kim, I've had a blast this month reading the martial arts and wuxi film reviews written by you, Sark,and Becky. These genres are among my favorites because of their diversity. Comedy, action, grace, feminism, and even romance can be combined--all in the same film sometimes. COME DRINK WITH ME is a genre classic, as is King Hu's DRAGON GATE INN (the remake DRAGON INN, with Brigitte Lin, is quite entertaining, too). I've always wanted to see GOLDEN SWALLOW, which is considered one of Jimmy Wang Yu's best films. Like Page, I love the characters' names and your colorful pictures capture the look of the film wonderfully. This is was an excellent review, Kim, and I'm already looking forward to A TOUCH OF ZEN.

  3. Well, Kim, my Netflix queue is growing more all the time because of the fascinating reviews of these movies, of which this is another one! My interest in Come Drink With Me was particularly captured by your analogy of the fights with ballet.

    My first real memory of the power of dance came from seeing West Side Story when I was about 10. It relates to your article mainly because of the Rumble scene in West Side Story. I remember turning to my Dad afterward and asking him how the fight could be so real but perfect. He told me that it is a carefully choreographed ballet, just as Swan Lake or Giselle. That was quite a revelation to me.

    I'd like to see this movie mainly because of that aspect of it. Thanks, Kim!

  4. Superb review, Kim, of a deserved classic. My favorite scene of the film is the early one when she's at the table, and the men gradually approach (you've got a picture of it). As you said, she tricks the men into thinking they can best her, and so the English title seems to suggest that she is beckoning them to have some tea with her. There are so many elements of King Hu's film that would become trademarks of Hong Kong cinema in the years to come: Peking Opera style fight choreography, strong female characters, and even actresses using martial arts onscreen having previously trained in ballet. I think Cheng Pei-Pei is very beautiful in this film, and, some 40 years later, she looks almost exactly the same. She has the perfect for this film, too: she looks means while fighting but has a bright smile that offsets her physical combats. This was so much fun to read, Kim. Like Rick, I'm looking forward to A TOUCH OF ZEN.

  5. Rick, Kim, it's been a while since I've watched a really good martial arts film. I used to watch them all the time with friends when we lived in NYC, but when we moved to PA, we fell out of the habit. This excellent review of COME DRINK WITH ME...THEN YOU DIE reminded me of what I've been missing, so I'm going to add it to my Netflix queue. Great review!

  6. Kim, this was another awesome review! The names are quite fun and the idea of giving someone a sip before dying is quite unconventional. When you described Cheng Pei-pei as being dressed in long gowns and big hats, it made me think of Ginger Rogers in her gowns and high heels. Great job, Kim!

  7. Kim, I haven't seen this movie...I don't think. I went through a phase when I watched everything on TV that was kung fu related. Your review makes this movie sound interesting. I will check for it on Netflix so I can enjoy it. A nicely written review!