Thursday, April 7, 2011

Come Drink With Me - A Review of the King Hu Classic

Who To Know
Director..................King Hu
Pei-pei Cheng.........Golden Swallow
Hua Yueh...............Drunken Cat
Hung Lieh Chen......Jade Faced Tiger
Chih-Ching Yang....Abbot Diao Ching-tang

The Story Goes
An official is kidnapped by a gang of bandits so that they can exchange him for their leader, who has been arrested. The official's sister, Golden Swallow, arrives to free him, and ends up needing the help of a beggar/kung fu master. 

My Thoughts
I have been a fan of King Hu's films for a while now, and I've seen quite a bit of his work. I even bought a multi-regional DVD player so that I could buy the best versions of a couple of his movies that were not available in my region. As chance would have it Come Drink With Me was one of the last of his movies that I have seen. Perhaps this played a role in my somewhat-negative opinion since I had seen his other films, and heard so much about how great this film is before I had the chance to see it.

Pei Pei Cheng / Golden Swallow
First of all, I'll start off by saying that Come Drink With Me isn't a terrible movie. Personally, I just find it to be one of Hu's weaker films that I've seen. Of course I thought it was better than Painted Skin, again another film that still do I find very watchable, but I feel that Come Drink With Me it is somewhat overrated, at least in the States. I believe that this was King Hu's last film with Shaw Brothers, and you can actually see the "Shawness" in the film compared to his later efforts. I remember reading that Shaw Brothers were known to restrict creative control of the films that they produced, and it's possible that this may have affected the final cut of Come Drink With Me.

Another thing that I would like to note is that I have only had the opportunity to see the Dragon Dynasty version of the film. If you know anything about the Weinsteins and Dragon Dynasty, then you are probably familiar with their strange desire to recut, and include alternative soundtracks to the movies that they release. The version that I saw only had the English dubtitles available at the time. I'm sure that if you purchase the DVD that you can probably choose some version of spoken Chinese and English subtitles. It just wasn't available to me at the time, however.

Anyways, I'm sure that the questionable dubbing may have influenced my opinion negatively, but I believe that if I would've seen it in the original audio that I still would've found this to be a lesser film than A Touch of Zen, Dragon Gate Inn, Valiant Ones, The Fate of Lee Kahn, or the Two Mountain films.

The Characters were interesting enough, but I didn't sense that tension that I usually get between the opposing characters in Hu's films. I won't say that they are generic characters, and that are running through the motions. That is actually far from true, but they definitely didn't have the playful cat-and-mouse relationship that we see in many of his films, in my opinion at least. In fact, I found both Golden Swallow and Drunken Cat to both be great heroes, and Cheng and Yueh were good in their respective roles.

Likewise, the villains were all pretty good, and I especially thought Jade Face Tiger was interesting. The first villain that Golden Swallow encounters is Smiling Tiger, who for some reason always reminds me of an Asian Jack Palance. It must be the fake/sex-assaulter grin that he keeps during his entire time on screen.

As with all of King Hu's films, I did enjoy the sets that were used in Come Drink With Me, and they did keep a somewhat magical feel to the film. It goes without saying that the man had a knack for visuals, and I found this film to be visually satisfying.

Hua Yueh / Drunken Cat
Finally, the fight scenes were adequate, though I wouldn't say that they are as good as those of other Hu films, such as The Valiant Ones. Compared to many of the kinetic, and often disorienting, fight scenes that we are subjected to in contemporary films, I very much prefer the fight scenes in Come Drink With Me. Not that Hu doesn't make use of fast editing, but I don't find it nearly as annoying as many of todays action films. If you do enjoy those types of action scenes, then it may be possible that you find those in Come Drink With Me somewhat slow. All I can say is to just relax and enjoy the film.

In Conclusion 
Would I recommend Come Drink With Me? Sure. I would especially suggest it to somebody that is not familiar with King Hu's work, but may be interested in seeing some of his films, if for no other reason than it is very easy to get a copy of, and it is very accessible to newcomers. I think that those who may not be familiar with wuxia could find this to enjoyable enough because it's not quite as far out as other films of the same genre, such as The Lezend of Zu.

As I mentioned earlier, I feel that this is one of Hu's weaker films, and for those interested in seeing him in his prime, then I would probably consider A Touch of Zen to be his best film. It takes a much deeper approach to the genre, and the story is much more engaging. To put it in perspective, I would say A Touch of Zen is King Hu's 2001: A Space Odyssey.



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