King Hu’s first wuxia pian (martial chivalry movie) is credited with launching a new wave in the genre, assimilating ideas from Japanese samurai movies and western thrillers while remaining scrupulously faithful to Chinese traditions. It’s flair and innovative style paved the way for everything from Bruce Lee to Tsui Hark – which is why Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon pays homage to it, not least by casting Cheng Pei-Pei. It gives several of King Hu’s specialties their first airing: the plot which suddenly expands to a larger frame of reference, the use of a traditional inn as a setting for conflict, skillfully coded messages (here, in a song), a heroine in male drag.We see the bad guys first: members of the Five Tiger Gang ambushing a convoy in the countryside, freeing two of their ‘brothers’ from captivity and taking a hostage. Next to appear is Xiyan, known in male drag as ‘Golden Swallow’, sister of the hostaged man, who deliberately provokes a first confrontation with the gang. And then the film’s hero Fan Dabei, known as Drunken Cat, who ‘accidentally’ helps Golden Swallow in her mission to rescue her brother; played by the wonderful Yuch Hua, he’s the original drunken hero and still one of the best. —Tony Rayns
King Hu (traditional Chinese: 胡金銓; simplified Chinese: 胡金铨; pinyin: Hú Jīnquán, April 29, 1931 – January 14, 1997) was a Hong Kong and Taiwan-based Chinese film director whose Wuxia films brought Chinese cinema to new technical and artistic heights. It was his films Come Drink With Me (大醉侠, 1966) and Dragon Gate Inn (龍門客棧, 1967) which inaugurated a new generation of wuxia films in the late 1960s. He is also a noted scriptwriter and set designer.
Hu was born in Beijing to a line of well-established Mandarin family originated from Da Ming, Hebei. His grandfather was the governor of Henan in late Qing Dynasty. He emigrated to Hong Kong in 1949.
After moving to Hong Kong, Hu worked in a variety of occupations, such as advertising consultant, artistic designer and producer for a number of media companies, as well as a part-time English tutor. In 1958 he joined the Shaw Brothers Studio as set decorator, actor, scriptwriter and assistant director. Under the influence of Taiwanese… read more
Until now, my experience with kung-fu films has been limited to Ang Lee, Zhang Yimou, and Tony Jaa. While all great, fun movies, like with everything there is something definitely special about the classics. Come Drink with Me is my introduction into the world of the Shaw Brothers and King Hu, and, boy, what an introduction it is. The plot is simple; the son of the regional governor is ambushed and kidnapped by bandits who demand the release of their leader who is about to be executed in exchange for the son's life. Rather than negotiate with bandits, the governor dispatches his daughter "Golden Swallow" to lasso up the bad guys and save her brother's life. Along the way she teams up with "Drunken Cat", the original drunken hero, replete with a personal army of musical orphans. In many ways kung-fu movies are China's (and by extension Hong Kong, Taiwan, and southeast Asia's) version of the western and the samurai movie, they are the cultural myth, and King Hu's 'Scope and Technicolor medieval Chinese fantasy land is as recognizable to movie-goers the world over as Monument Valley. There is also a progressive element to this movie. Golden Swallow is strong, independent, resourceful, and never sexualized. She is the perfect heroine and the character that fiery media watchdogs dream of. (On a side note, despite being in drag the first part of the movie, she always appeared to me as recognizably female. How was it that no one else was able to notice? Is there some cultural context I am missing, or is that the joke?) There is plenty of action and intrigue, buckets of blood, and thrills to go around. I have already started downloading a library of Shaw Brothers and King Hu movies.
There are kung fu films and then there are King Hu's films. "Come Drink With Me" stands out from the rest of the Shaw Brothers catalog thanks to King Hu's filmmaking technique. His fluid camera movement and frequent use of deep focus photography feel unique in the genre, making Hu more readily comparable to directors like John Ford and Akira Kurosawa than his contemporary Chang Cheh. If most Hong Kong action films are sequence-based, King Hu restores the frame to a place of supreme importance: actors deliver carefully choreographed movement within a single shot, while the soundtrack adds to the feeling that we're witnessing the rebirth of Chinese opera on celluloid. Actress Cheng Pei-Pei is both regal and ferocious in the lead role, her face wonderfully expressive in the midst of battle or repose.
The action is cautious, sometimes clumsy, with paused moments of contemplation and strategy building. It's a bit surprising to see this come from Shaw Brothers; this is so unlike the work of Chang Cheh and his 1970s-early '80s peers. Reasons for watching and loving this film: the thrilling - and sometimes bloody and brutal - scenes of swordplay, the stunning cinematography, and Cheng Pei-pei.
Its action set pieces are staged in a strategically paced manner, and seem to be lifted from samurai films, especially those by Kurosawa, mixed with Western stand offs. Realism isn't a word often used to describe wuxia/martial arts films, but I feel it can be applied to Come Drink with Me. This almost looks like how actual martial artists would engage in serious combat.
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