Come Drink with Me Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: March 22, 2022
Audio: Mandarin and English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English and English SDH
Run Time: 94:37
Director: King Hu
When the Governor’s son is taken hostage by bandits, a mysterious swordsman named Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei) is hot on their trail to ensure the son’s release. What the bandits don’t realize, however, is that Golden Swallow is actually a woman, and that the hostage is her brother. Determined to set him free, no matter how many goons she has to fight her way through in doing so, she is aided in her quest by a drunken beggar (Yueh Hua) who may have a closer connection to the bandits’ leader than he initially lets on. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
King Hu’s Come Drink with Me (1966) is, by many estimations, including my own, the greatest martial arts movie of the 1960s and perhaps even the greatest romantic drama of its kind, at least until Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) borrowed and further polished its delicate formula with the help of a Hollywood studio budget. Hu had begun his career at Shaw Bros. as a character actor in period films and made his directorial debut with a historical war drama called Sons of the Good Earth (1964) before redefining filmic wuxia with his second film. Referred to by critics as the first film of a “New School” movement, Come Drink with Me emphasized the elegance of its choreography and production design (without de-emphasizing violence or gore), coupling them with refined cinematic techniques that weren’t regularly seen in Hong Kong swordplay movies. Even decades after its approach and set-pieces were emulated the genre over, Come Drink with Me has rarely been equaled.
In setting the new precedent, Hu brought Peking Opera heritage and martial arts fiction to cinema screens in a new way. He also emulated one of the theater's oldest traditions, that of casting women in leading, action oriented roles. While European and Japanese playhouses banned women from performing, China encouraged it, training actresses in swordplay, so that they could portray a litany of folk heroines, like Hua Mulan, Fan Lihua, and Mu Guiying. Hu cast Cheng Pei-pei as Golden Swallow and used her ballet training as a basis for dance-inspired fight sequences, rather than real-world or opera-designed martial arts. Golden Swallow disguises herself as a swordsman, as well, re-creating another classic Chinese storytelling tradition that became common after Come Drink with Me, especially during post-New Wave Hong Kong films. Notable examples (besides Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Mulan) include Brigitte Lin portraying the literary eunuch swordsman, Dongfang Bubai, as a trans woman in two films (Ching Siu-tung’s The Swordsman II  and The East is Red [co-directed with Raymond Lee, 1993]), leading subsequent adaptations to also cast women as Dongfang, and Josephine Siao in Corey Yuen’s Fong Sai Yuk (aka: The Legend, 1993), who maintains her male identity after a young woman falls in love with ‘him.’
Hu and co-writer Ting Shan-Hsi based their plot upon The Drunken Beggar, a 1920s opera written by Huan Zhu Lou Zhu (aka: Li Shoumin), perhaps best-known for Legend of the Swordsmen of the Mountains of Shu (1932), which was the basis for Tsui Hark’s Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983). Despite being the headliner, Cheng plays co-lead with Yueh Hua, as the Drunken Beggar (technically Drunken Cat), Fan Da-pei, an undercover kung-fu master. Golden Swallow comes into town with her own vendetta, but quickly finds herself embroiled in a local rivalry that she doesn’t completely understand, much like a gunslinger in a spaghetti western. Also like The Man with No Name or many characters named Django, Golden Swallow must overcome a nearly fatal trial at the end of the second act, and, like their impossibly skilled cowboy sharp-shooter counterparts, the main characters are all supernaturally endowed fighters (acknowledging that Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef never exhibited Dragon Ball-like ki powers). Hong Kong kung-fu developed alongside and somewhat as an answer to Italy’s westerns with both styles drawing inspiration from Japanese samurai movies. Hu’s work isn’t uniquely indebted to spaghetti pioneers, like Sergio Leone, but Come Drink with Me’s polished and punchy modernization of aging tropes could be considered his – and the modern wuxia genre’s – Fistful of Dollars (Italian: Per un pugno di dollari, 1964).
Cheng appeared again as Golden Swallow in a sequel, appropriately titled Golden Swallow (1968), though Hu had moved on from Shaw Bros. to Taiwanese studio Union Film Company, leaving Chang Cheh to direct. After a line of hits during the ‘70s, she was brought out of semi-retirement in 1988 by Alex Law for the Beijing Opera School drama Painted Faces. In the decades that followed, she appeared alongside Michelle Yeoh in Yuen Woo-ping’s Wing Chun (1994), Gong Li in Lee Lik-chi’s Flirting Scholar (1993), Zhang Ziyi and Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (a role written specifically for her), and had a cameo in Niki Caro’s Mulan (2020). Yueh worked regularly for Shaw Bros. into the early ‘80s, including Lo Wei’s Brothers Five (co-starring Cheng, 1970) and a number of films directed by Chor Yuen (Death Duel , The Sentimental Swordsman , and Heroes Shed No Tears , among others), eventually relocating to Canada, where he’d appear alongside Jackie Chan and Anita Mui in the international mega-hit, Rumble in the Bronx (1995).
Hong Kong Action Cinema by Bey Logan (Titan Books, 1995)
Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition by Stephen Teo (Edinburgh University Press, 2009)
Come Drink with Me doesn’t seem to have had an official VHS review in the US, though there were definitely HK imports, bootlegs, and, reportedly, PAL videotapes sporting the alternate title Kung Fu Girl (ugh). The first stateside DVD was a non-anamorphic, no frills disc from New Media, followed by an extras-laden, anamorphic update from Genius Products (a short-lived version of the Weinstein Company). HD versions appeared on German, Japanese, and UK Blu-ray, as well as digital streaming. I personally own the 88 Films disc and compared it directly to Arrow’s new US Blu-ray debut. There are some differences – the 88 Films transfer is 2.35:1, while this one is 2:25-ish (matching the German and Japanese releases), and there are slight bitrate and color temperature improvements – but both discs appear to be built on the same scan/master, probably from Celestial Films, who owns the rights to Shaw Bros.’ releases now. Basically, if you already own the 88 Films BD and aren’t concerned with the minor image improvements or substantial extras Arrow is including here, you might as well keep it.
However, if you never imported any non-US version or simply couldn’t play RB/C discs, this edition is among the best Shaw Bros. HD transfers available and likely will remain, unless Celestial Films opts to do 4K scans, which I don’t see happening anytime soon. Unlike almost every other HD Shaw transfers (from any studio), the image hasn’t been scrubbed with DNR and has zero issues with over-sharpened edges. Film grain and detail levels appear natural for type/age and edges are nearly separated by shadows and color variations. Given how many of the latter Shaw Bros. movies were shot on the same collection of sound stages, I’m especially impressed with the clarity and color pop of outdoor, sunlit photography. Some shadows are on the inky side, but this is in-keeping with other versions of the film I’ve seen. I just think cinematographer Ho Lan-shan intended certain shots to be particularly high-contrast. Some shots also exhibit a hint of wobble.
Come Drink with Me is presented with Mandarin and English dubs, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono. Being a Hong Kong-based studio at a time when it was still a British colony, the classic Shaw Bros. movies would have needed English, Mandarin, and Cantonese audio and/or subtitle options. I imagine some members of the HK cast & crew spoke Cantonese, but Cheng Pei-pei was raised in Shanghai and her dubbed lip sync is right on. In fact, this is a case where I really must insist that first time viewers stick to the Mandarin track. Unlike the studio’s later work, which was churned out at an incredible pace, the filmmakers really took their time with the mix – dialogue, music, and sound effects included. The English dub isn’t the worst of its kind, but is a step down in the quality of the experience. Eddie H. Wang and Zhou Lan-ping’s traditional score is squeezed by the single channel treatment, but there aren’t any of the usual problems with hiss or shrill distortion when the music gets loud or complex/layered.
Commentary by film critic and historian Tony Rayns – The author of In the Mood for Love: BFI Film Classics (British Film Institute, 2019) and countless other books on world cinema breaks down just about every aspect of the film, from Hu’s greater filmography and favorite themes, to the careers of the rest of the cast & crew, the political history of martial arts fiction, Hu’s unique use of written martial arts fiction, various historical representation and accuracy, and all the ways Come Drink with Me inspired other filmmakers. One particularly interesting factoid I didn’t know was that the few musical sequences are less representative of Peking Opera than they are of traditional street performance. For the record, the Weinstein DVD has an exclusive commentary with Cheng Pei-pei, moderated by (accused sexual harasser) Bey Logan, and the 88 Films BD has an exclusive and fantastic commentary with historian/critic Samm Deighan.
Queen of Swordswomen (51:55, HD) – This 2003 interview with star Cheng Pei-pei was conducted by Frédéric Ambroisine. The actress discusses joining the Shaw school after coming to Hong Kong in part because they spoke Mandarin, her performance training, working with various all-star actors & directors at Shaw, Hu’s approach to direction and choreography, gender roles in martial arts cinema, agreeing to appear in Golden Swallow after being assured it wasn’t really a sequel, other post-Come Drink with Me Shaw Bros. roles, coming out of retirement for Golden Harvest, acting opposite Michelle Yeoh’s stand-in when shooting Wing Chun, and appearing in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Frédéric Ambroisine’s 2007 interview with actor Yueh Hua (30:15, HD) – Yueh talks about early stage performances, training, early roles (including Monkey King, who has a lot in common with Drunken Cat), working under contract at Shaw, the original Drunken Beggar Peking opera, Hu sneaking real alcohol into his prop gourd, Come Drink with Me’s box office success, Taiwanese films paying better than Shaw, and his continuing friendship with Hu.
Frédéric Ambroisine’s 2003 interview with actor Chen Hung-lieh (43:33, HD) – Chen sticks a little closer to Come Drink with Me than the other two interviewees. He recalls being cast, training (again), the novelty of his costuming and make-up, performing choreography and stunts, alternate casting possibilities, the differences between Hu and Chang Cheh’s direction, and transitioning to a director, himself.
Talk Story with Cheng Pei-pei (10:47, HD) – A 2016 classroom Q&A at the University of Hawaii moderated by George Chun Han Wang.
Cinema Hong Kong: Swordfighting (50:21, SD) – The second in a three-part English language documentary series produced in 2003 by Celestial Pictures. As the title indicates, it centers on swordplay stunts and includes interviews with wuxia royalty, like Cheng, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Gordon Liu.
Hong Kong trailer, digital reissue trailer, and Golden Swallow trailer
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.