film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Come Drink With Me (1966)

I cracked Roommate Russ up when I was about to watch this and announced: “And thus, in May of 2023, Kim discovered wuxia.”

To be fair, I’d actually discovered wuxia in 2000 with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But that film was more of a multi-national take on the genre; Come Drink With Me is solely a Hong Kong production, and one of the best examples of this Chinese action genre. It’s also a good example of the films that were very soon going to take the Western world by storm; less than a decade after Come Drink With Me was released, the United States and China would tentatively renew diplomatic relations, leading curious Americans to seek out examples of current Chinese culture. The Taiwan and Hong Kong film industries were eager to introduce Westerners to this heady mix of martial arts and historical fantasy, touching off a craze that made its way onto American television, American radios, and children’s cartoons.

One might argue that since I watched the cartoon Hong Kong Phooey as a child, I “discovered” wuxia in the 1970’s – but that show was set in the contemporary United States as opposed to medieval China, so it doesn’t count. Come Drink With Me definitely qualifies, on the other hand – it’s practically a textbook example. Set in a non-specific “historic” time in rural China, this is largely about the struggles between Golden Swallow (Cheng Pei-pei), the daughter of the local governor, and Jade-Faced Tiger (Chan Hung-lit), the bandit who holds her brother Zheng (Wong Chung) hostage. Tiger is in turn hoping for a prisoner exchange – Zheng will be released if the governor releases his own master – but Golden Swallow, an exemplary fighter, has come to the bandit’s territory disguised as a man, determined to fight for her brother’s release instead. She sets up camp at a local inn and ably fights off Tiger’s men during an early ambush, and then gets to work trying to figure out where Zheng might be held captive. Annoyingly, she’s also earned the admiration of a local beggar named Drunken Cat (Yueh Ha) who keeps hanging around trying to make conversation and also steals some things out of her room one night. But when Golden Swallow starts listening more closely to Drunken Cat’s ramblings, she suspects he may know more about Zheng than she thought – and that the “Drunken” Cat may not be so drunk after all.

Not only do we eventually learn the Drunken Cat’s backstory – he has an entire subplot, concerning a struggle for control of a Kung Fu school. His own story is woven into hers, with both eventually teaming up to help each others’ cause in turns. But the plot is mainly just an excuse for the fight scenes. And there are plenty of them – Tiger’s men kidnapping Zheng at the top of the film, Golden Swallow singlehandedly fighting off Tiger’s men, Drunken Cat going one-on-one with his own adversary. And a lot of the fighting verges on the fantastical – Golden Swallow pursues Drunken Cat across rooftops at one point, and in another scene she literally runs straight up a wall. Drunken Cat can shoot an explosive gas from his palms. Tiger’s favorite weapon is a poison dart he flings at his targets with the flick of a fan.

Even though I tried not to, I still found myself comparing this to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon a whole lot. That later film also has several scenes with a woman posing as a man; in fact, there’s even a fight scene in an inn. Golden Sparrow’s chase across the rooftops reminded me of Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi’s similar chase, as did the film’s frequent use of poison darts. And much like Michelle Yeoh, Cheng Pei-pei also got her start as a dancer; director King Fu thought Cheng’s dance background suited his style of martial arts well, just as Jackie Chan and his team thought of Michelle Yeoh.

I also admit that the plot felt somehow thin and complicated both, somehow; the subplot about Drunken Cat and his rival lost my interest. But the fighting was still great fun to watch. I also appreciated how it was no big deal that one of the best fighters in the film was a woman – there were a couple people surprised that Golden Sparrow was actually a woman in disguise, but seconds later she was swinging a huge sword at them and they realized that that was more important. In fact, in one scene it came across more like a “code-switching” on Golden Sparrow’s part – when she learns Tiger’s hideout is in a nearby temple, Golden Sparrow turns up in more traditional womens’ dress, posing as a worshipper to sneak her way inside for a look around and quickly bowing before the altar and mumbling pious prayers if anyone saw her – only for her to then whip a dagger at them and pin their sleeve to a wall or something. Whatever you think of the plot, that’s just cool.

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