“I didn’t want to use real martial arts what we call real kung-fu. I had seen it in tournaments, I didn’t find it very beautiful and I didn’t understand a thing about it; as a matter of fact, I still don’t.”
‘Come Drink with Me’, directed by King Hu in 1966, is a Hong Kong ‘wuxia’ film set in the Ming Dynasty. Golden Swallow, played by Cheng Pei-pei, is on a mission to rescue her brother from the hands of bandits. In her quest she is helped by Fan Da-Pei, aka Drunken Cat, an alcoholic beggar who happens to be a Kung Fu master. This leads to a showdown between Da-Pei and an abbot, also a martial arts expert, who has aligned himself with the bandits. It’s a pacey, colourful and, at times, excessive movie. Essentially the combination of two Hollywood genres: the Western and the dance musical, the fight sequences are as balletic and well-choreographed as any Gene Kelly film, whilst the setting and the cinematography is as stark and dusty as ‘The Searchers’. It takes a little adjusting to. The performances are heightened and the characters are theatrical and free from any nuance, whilst the shifts in tone and generic style throughout the movie, in one moment comedic, then the next violent, then melodramatic, are jarring. But this all makes sense as a whole. The overall feeling, as with a movie with a similar disregard for consistency in style such as ‘The Wicker Man’, is one of disconcerting coherence. The film hangs together because of the joyful way Hu subverts the expectation of the audience, not despite it. The fight scenes are the highlight of the film complete with wire-work, stunts, pneumatic projections of Kensington gore and ever increasingly ridiculous deaths. The period setting, coupled with the simple characters and primal narrative give the film a mythic sense, and, strangely, makes the movie a timeless one.
Would I recommend it? It’s fun, pacey, and kinetic. The fights are brilliantly executed and the movie is an economic length. It’s worth watching before a rewatch of ‘Enter the Dragon’ to get the two extremes of the Hong Kong martial arts genre.